Canadians seeking privacy (but not too hard)

Michael Sharun, country manager, EMC Canada

Michael Sharun, country manager, EMC Canada

A new study on online privacy shows that Canadians are very concerned about their privacy. They just aren’t really willing to do much to ensure it.

The study, sponsored by EMC, explored attitudes towards personal data and privacy issues around the world, including 1,000 Canadian participants. Those surveyed were asked their opinions around privacy issues around six online “personas” – their consumer lives, roles as employees, social privacy, medical and financial privacy, and privacy as citizens consuming government services or with government-collected data online.

The survey found Canadians among the least likely to trade privacy for convenience – ranking 13th out of 15th in the nations studied. Michael Sharun, country manager for EMC Canada, said there’s no doubt Canadians value their privacy.

“As we design and promote technologies, we need to be more concerned about privacy if we want to be successful,” Sharun said. “The more successful you are in defining and outlining your privacy commitment, the more successful you’ll be in business.”

But ask Canadian to take some of the basic steps to protect their own privacy, and many will walk. The study found that just over a third (38 per cent) regularly change online passwords, and just over half (58 per cent) bother to enable basic password protection on mobile devices. Sharun said those findings, juxtaposing with overall concern for privacy, were the big surprise of the study for him.

“We’re looking for somebody else to look after us. We’re not taking responsibility on our own to look after these things,” he said.

A slim majority (56 per cent) say they have experienced a data breach, and in the post-Snowden world, almost two thirds (64 per cent) believe their privacy is only going to get worse in the near future. Sharun said that fear, combined with a regulatory environment largely incompatible with that of the U.S., should mean opportunities for Canadian organizations, particularly around cloud services.

“Canadian providers have a captive audience right now. There’s a huge growth opportunity for organizations that can show the right level of transparency,” he said. “People aren’t using it as a differentiator to the extent they should.”

Sharun described privacy as a shared issue that everyone involved with technology needs to be increasingly cognizant of. And Canadians need to “show their work” more clearly when it comes to privacy, highlighting the privacy implications and privacy-protecting features of the services and products they offer, deploy, or operate.

For the most part, Canadians believe that the keepers of online data have the skills to keep their data private. But do they have the ethics to do so? Here, Canadians are a little more cynical, with the majority believing that only the financial and medical sectors have the ethics (or perhaps sufficient motivation due to threat of consequences) to keep their data private.

Going back to the juxtaposition of privacy perceptions versus privacy actions in this country, the study finds Canadians are most cynical about the ability and will of social media services to keep their private data private. But, of course, many still freely share that private data, in the form of personal information, activities, photographs and video, with a variety of social media services.