How much personal information do Canadians want to give up online? Not that much.

More and more Canadians are moving online for their shopping, entertainment, information, and social needs every day, and while the availability of these services online makes many things much more convenient, they also raise questions of privacy and security.

As the number of Canadians actively participating in online activities grows, so do the number of marketers and advertisers looking for more efficient and effective ways of selling their products or services.  We have seen a rapid shift away from print and television advertising to digital and online marketing.  A key advantage these advertisers have online over traditional forms of media is the ability to profile and target their audience, often down to the individual; exposing internet users to messaging relevant to them based on their usage history and personal profile.

In our last national omnibus survey, Abacus Data asked Canadians about their views about online marketing and privacy .  Specifically, we wanted to understand what sort of balance individuals would prefer when it comes to sharing user data to generate personalized content.  We also asked Canadians what level of trust they held towards a variety of online sources to safely and securely manage their personal information.

The Balance of Personalized Content and User Data

Although there wasn’t a significant difference between Millennials (those aged 18 to 31) and non-Millennials, most Canadians tell us that they don’t want to share much (if any) personal information online; even if it means more personalized content.


These findings held true, even among the most frequent and engaged (those who self-identify as logging in more than once per day) users of common social media services Facebook and Twitter.  So, despite the propensity of these individuals to regularly use social networks which, by definition, involve the sharing of personal information online, a majority do not want to share information in exchange for more personalized content.


Safe and Secure Management of Personal Data?

So, when asked directly, most Canadians don’t want to share more information online; but what about levels of trust for those companies and organizations which may already have our personal information?

We asked Canadians to tell us about their trust towards nine of the most well-known social networks, technology companies, retailers, and organizations.  Figure 3 highlights the mean scores for each, where 1 represents strongly disagree and 4 represents strongly agree.  As Figure 3 reports mean scores, anything above 2.5 represents an overall trust, while anything below 2.5 indicates an overall disagreement.


Surprisingly, the most frequently used social networks were towards the bottom of the trusted list, despite the amount of data we naturally share across such networks.  These findings highlight a difference between perceptions of users and non-users, as those who self-identified as frequent users were more likely to trust social networks to protect their information than non-users.  However, despite these increased trust levels, all three of the large social networks fell short of a mean score of 2.5.

Interestingly, the largest observed differences between users and non-users were in areas of online shopping, particularly Amazon and Apple (iTunes).  In fact, among frequent users, Amazon was the most trusted source of all those tested.

What does it Mean?

As a society, whether Millennials and non-Millennial, we are online and engaged.  We shop, watch, and interact over the internet, many of us many times per day.  When we’re asked directly about personal information and sharing, we say we don’t want our personal information to be used for marketing and targeting, but it appears that we are unwilling to change our usage patterns to reflect these beliefs.

Taken together, these finding suggest that many of us just don’t care enough about the possible use or misuse of our personal information to give up the conveniences and interests of online, social activity.  For others, the benefits of social media and the need to be online may outweigh the privacy risks associated with publishing personal information.  It is also possible that security risks are a deterrent for some users when it comes to online shopping, considering the large differences observed in mean scores for online stores like Amazon and iTunes.

So what can marketers, retailers, social networks, and brands do to reassure existing users and perhaps attract new ones?  A partial solution would be clear, honest policies and openness surrounding privacy settings and information sharing.  Many social networks, like Facebook, are often accused of vague or confusing privacy settings which can lead to disengagement of users.  These networks only exist as long as their user base remains; and such bases can shift quickly – remember MySpace?  A major privacy breach or questionable conduct could mean the death of any social media platform in a very short period of time.

What do you think social networks can do to improve their handing of personal information?  Send us an email or share a comment on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.


The survey was conducted online with 2,465 respondents in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a panel of over 150,000 Canadians.  The survey was completed from May 21 to 25, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 2,465 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.0%, 19 times out of 20.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.

These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly Omnibus survey. 

Alex Monk leads Abacus Data’s Business Strategy and Implementation practice and manages the development and testing of all online surveys and panels. He is also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of Abacus Data and overseeing the company’s accounting department. Alex earned his BA (honours) in Political Science and Economics from Carleton University, and is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Contact Alex Monk, CMA:

T: 613-232-2806 x.249