Privacy on the Prairies
In our office’s most recent annual report the focus was on data and the amount of data we generate online. With the rapid advancement of technology and the increase in the amount of business being conducted online, we need to be conscientious about what information we are providing and whether it is being used only for the intended purpose.
“There is an obligation on organizations either legislated or expected by society that the data we provide is fully protected.”
When it comes to understanding privacy, how do the prairie provinces measure up? In a recent public opinion survey from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the truth is in the numbers.
So, how do citizens feel about how their personal information is being handled? Among the respondents in the prairies, 39% indicated that they are extremely concerned about the protection of their privacy and over half of those surveyed believe that all of what they do online or on their smartphones is being tracked by companies and/or organizations. They are also more apprehensive in providing information to organizations or agreeing to new technology such as face and voice recognition.
When asked the same question of government institutions, this number dropped to 21%. Respondents indicated that they have more trust in how banks, law enforcement and government of Canada services (eg., passports, pensions and employment insurance) handle our information as opposed to social media, big tech companies (eg., Microsoft, Apple and Google) and various retailers. This could be a result of legislation that protects personal information and personal health information. Provincially, our province has three statutes; The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Health Information Protection Act to address these concerns which apply to government ministries, Crown corporations, school boards, universities, municipalities, cities, towns, villages and trustees among various others. However, we need to be cautious when providing information to organizations that operate outside our province or that have other legislation that governs them.
Luckily, when it comes to taking steps to control how our information is collected, used and disclosed, we have some options. First and foremost, don’t provide any information that is not necessary for the intended purpose. In many cases, you get to control the information you provide. Make sure you are reading through terms and conditions and ask questions if there is something you don’t understand. When it comes to things like social media accounts, make sure to review your privacy settings and set them as high as you can to protect yourself as much as possible. This is something that 76% of respondents to the survey have taken action on and even 53% have stopped using social media altogether.
The concern that was the most prevalent was that of identity theft. This was rated the highest with 65% saying that this is something they are very concerned with. Considering the percentage of individuals (57%) that acknowledge that they or someone they know has been impacted by a breach, they are right to be cautious, as a breach of this nature can have the potential to be damaging to many aspects of life and can take years to resolve fully.
With this level of concern, I question then why only 14% of respondents rated their knowledge of privacy rights as very good and whether this number is due to a lack of awareness and understanding. If so, what can we do to ensure that people are better informed? When 76% of respondents in the prairies state that they are not aware of any federal institutions that help Canadians deal with privacy and the protection of personal information, there is definitely room for improvement for both the parties offering these services and individuals educating themselves on the matter.
We need to ask how we can ensure that individuals who entrust us with their information are well informed on how that information will be collected, used and disclosed without over complicating things, and ensuring they clearly understand their rights. Would it surprise you to learn that when asked how often respondents read privacy policies, notices or pop ups when using mobile applications or conducting transactions online, 16% said always, 23% said never and 61% said sometimes. I have to admit, I am among the 61% and would give the same reasoning as 48% of respondents asked, they are just too long! One could also argue that they are seldom written in layman’s terms making them difficult to understand.
If you want more information on how to protect yourself, our office has various resources that can help educate you on safeguarding your information. If there is something you can’t find on our website or would like more information about, let us know by sending us a message on X, LinkedIn. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (for website related inquiries) or email@example.com (for general questions). For more information on the above survey results please see 2020-21 Survey of Canadians on Privacy-Related Issues – Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada