08/25/2011 11:38 EDT | Updated 10/25/2011 05:12 EDT

Canadians Not Doing Enough To Protect Privacy On Phones, Devices: Report


OTTAWA - Text messaging may help quiet the hum of public cellphone conversations — but it may be just as vulnerable to eavesdropping.

Canada's privacy commissioner says Canadians aren't doing enough to protect their mobile communication devices, such as cellphones and tablet computers.

A survey by the commissioner's office suggests only four in 10 people password-protect their phones or adjust privacy settings on personal-information sharing via downloaded applications.

People who actually store personal information on their devices were more likely to use privacy measures.

"We encourage people to use passwords, encryption, privacy settings and every other available measure to safeguard their personal information, because the meaningful protection of privacy has to start with the individual," Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said.

Canadians are increasingly worried about their privacy in a digital environment.

The survey found that levels of concern about a range of technologies and applications, including cellphones, online banking, and credit- and debit-card transactions, all rose since 2009.

Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 were found to be the most enthusiastic users of technology but also the most likely to use available tools to protect their privacy online.

Stoddart called that finding gratifying.

"Young people are sometimes stereotyped as digital exhibitionists who are quite uninhibited in posting comments and personal images," she said.

"And yet, this new data shows that they not only care about privacy, they are actually leaders in protecting it."

Two thousand people were surveyed for the commissioner's poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

It was conducted between Feb. 23 and March 6, just as outrage in Britain over a tabloid newspaper hacking into people's cellphones began to grow. In that case, reporters broke into people's voice mail messages and investigations continue into whether reporters also had phone-tracking records.

The scandal ultimately brought down one of the country's oldest newspapers.

And in the aftermath of riots in London earlier this month, authorities there are actively monitoring social-media sites and musing about expanding that to mobile devices to prevent similar events.

The Canadian survey asked whether people felt police should have access to their online usage information without a warrant. A whopping 82 per cent said No.

Eight in 10 Canadians also said Internet companies should ask permission to track how users spend their time online.

One of the biggest thorns in the privacy commissioner's side over the years has been the privacy policies of online social networks.

In 2008, she launched one of the first investigations into how Facebook handled the issue.

The social-media giant has since repeatedly toughened up its policies, including a revamp this week that allows people to accept or reject being identified in someone else's photo.

The survey found that more than half of Canadians have concerns related to social-networking sites, but most take advantage of available privacy controls.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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