With files from Alex Coop

 

While governments and companies say they are paying more attention to cybersecurity, a new survey suggests the overwhelming majority of Canadians remain worried about the security of their personal information online.

The survey done for the Digital Identity and Authentication Council of Canada (DIACC) shows that 39 per cent of respondents are extremely concerned and an equal number are somewhat concerned that their personal information is being compromised online.

In a telling statistic, only 31 per cent of respondents said they either strongly or somewhat agree they trust social media sites to keep their personal information safe. That compares to 83 per cent trust in governments and 81 per cent trust in financial institutions.

Trust in retail companies, internet providers and travel sites is roughly 50-50, while trust in e-commerce companies is a bit higher.

DIACC has been working for five years on a digital identity framework for the public and private sectors so Canadians can more easily and securely buy goods and services online, as well as produce identity in person without always needing to produce documents like drivers licences or health cards. Often this would be done through an identity app on a smartphone.

In a commonly-cited example, young people would be able to prove their age to enter a bar without showing a driver’s licence, which has their home address. The app would merely confirm the owner of the smartphone is above the legal age. Similarly, an app could confirm legal age for a person buying cannabis online, or getting a loan.

DIACC is now in the home stretch of its work creating a Pan-Canadian Trust Framework for public and private sector organizations to safely authorize access to and exchange sensitive data with each other, an important element of digital identity. In June it released a proposed first version of the framework. A final first version of all components is expected next summer. Some companies are already experimenting with solutions built around the early framework.

Ottawa insisted years ago that DIACC be a public-private partnership. On its current board are representatives of Telus, SecureKey, Interac, Canada Post, Desjardins Card Services (a division of Desjardins credit union group), CIBC, TD Bank, Bank of Montreal, Manulife and several provinces.

While DIACC has been quietly working away since 2014, the survey asked if respondents feel government or the private sector should be leading the charge.

Seventy per cent of respondents said both should collaborate on the framework.

DIACC president Joni Brennan was gratified. The response “largely confirms what we had suspected,” she said in an interview. “We were expecting that Canadians were concerned about personal data, trying to manage user IDs and passwords, likely unsure of what digital identity means, and at the same time are looking for solutions to make their lives easier and to protect their data.”

She said it also confirmed DIACC’s belief that the public and private sectors have to work together on solutions.

On the other hand, only about half of the respondents said they are familiar with the concept of digital identity.

Well over half of the respondents said they are interested in using digital ID authentication with a wide variety of organizations, including government agencies, banks, healthcare providers and retail companies.

In an interview with Debbie Gamble, chief officer of innovation labs and new ventures at Interac was asked why, as the survey suggests, trust with social media platforms is lower than banks and government services. Social media platforms don’t have to adhere to the same strict rules regulated institutions have to obey, she explained, and they have a bad track record around mismanaging people’s personal data.

According to the survey, 68 per cent of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that they would be willing to share more personal information online if it makes the online experience more convenient. Yet they also worry about security. 

“I’d characterize that as your traditional innovation trust challenge,” she said. “As consumers, we typically want convenience, we expect new services and innovation, but we’re not really quite sure how to use it, what it means, and how that information is going to be used. There’s obviously an opportunity to address that knowledge gap. Most Canadians just need to, we need to know, what does this mean and how can I ensure that I can transact securely. There’s a need here for transparency and education.”

The survey also confirmed that Canadians do a lot online. Respondents figured they spent an average of 32.7 hours a week online, including work and personal time. One-third of respondents calculated they spend 40 hours or more.



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