Canadians are very worried about their online privacy, and digital advertisers and media marketers should ensure the information they gather about consumers is used responsibly – and legally.
Nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of Canadians worry about the erosion of personal privacy; it’s the second most worrying issue for Canadians among several global concerns.
That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Advertising Standards Canada.
The report, based on responses from some 1,000 Canadians who responded to an Internet questionnaire, says that 89 per cent or people agree with the statement, “people share far too much personal information online these days”.
Nevertheless, remarked ASC President and CEO Linda Nagel at the release of the report, “Canadians are generally open to this kind of engagement, whether on social networks with friends or information sharing with a company for a benefit. What was once considered private information is freely shared.”
ASC, the industry association and self-regulatory group, partnered with integrated ad agency MacLaren McCann for the research.
Seventy-two per cent said they are worried about the erosion of personal privacy, roughly on par with the number who is concerned about the global financial crisis (73 per cent) and climate change (71 per cent).
But ASC says that trust can be built with consumers through concerted efforts to ensure that people know what will happen to their information; it recommends clearly allowing users to choose what information to share or hold back from marketers in the first place.
A commitment from marketers and advertisers to make people aware of organizational or operational privacy and security policies is also crucial, as is some sort of compensation that shows users “what’s in it for me” if they do share information.
Canadians are more willing to share some details about themselves than others, according to the survey results: just 17 per cent said they would willingly share financial data, like credit card details, yet more than three quarters were fine sharing shopping information, such as where they shop or what they shop for.
“Consumers are increasingly willing to trade privacy for clear benefits and become what we call the ‘savvy shopper’,” said Laura Simpson, Global Director for McCann Truth Central and co-author of the report. “Canadians are well aware of the various ways they trade data with brands and businesses, and even how this data is used.”
However, another online privacy report says some leading websites in Canada are inappropriately “leaking” registered users’ personal information – including names, email addresses and postal codes – to third-party players, like marketing and ad agencies.
What’s more, according to research by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the leakage identified in the testing occurred in a way that would be invisible to most people using these websites.
“The research findings raise concerns for the privacy rights of Canadians. Web leakage can involve the disclosure of personal information without an individual’s consent– or even knowledge,” said Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. “Our research also raises questions about compliance with Canadian privacy law in the online world.”
For example, the research showed that when people registered to receive promotions from a shopping site, their email address, username and city were disclosed to a number of analytics and marketing firms. Some websites that were disclosing information did so apparently without the knowledge or consent of the people affected – and possibly in violation of federal privacy law.
It’s well-known that simply navigating the Internet leaves behind a rich trail of information that can reveal a great deal about a person’s location, personal preferences, computer settings and browsing patterns. Much of the information is user-provided, yet some data gathering is not as obvious or user approved.
In any case, the type of information tracked and collected can include: IP addresses, pages visited (on a single site or across sites), length of time spent on pages, advertisements viewed, articles read, purchases made, search terms used, user preferences such as language and web browser type, operating system and geographical location.
Sophisticated behavioural tracking techniques analyze the collected data, build detailed users’ personal profiles and present ads defined as relevant to users in those categories. Depending on the advertiser, these interest categories can be rather broad or highly targeted.
An older survey conducted by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre found that nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were uncomfortable with behavioural advertising, and only about half of respondents were aware of tracking devices and techniques.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner says it’s also concerned about the potential privacy infringements presented by such practices, particularly the lack of transparency with which they are conducted and the quality of the consent obtained as a result of these practices. It has called on the advertising industry to better explain what behavioural advertising involves, and how people can opt out if they wish. The industry should also ensure that organizations obtain appropriate consent before tracking consumers, the OPC said.