Canadians' cyber illiteracy puts us at risk of being scammed: privacy commissioner
Stoddart said Canadians need to be wary of sharing personal information with any unknown apps, websites or people online. (file image)
By Laura Jakobschuk, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 28, 2013 4:53PM CST
OTTAWA, Ont. -- Despite topping the list as the heaviest Internet users worldwide, Canadians are surprisingly lacking in digital literacy -- and that's putting their personal information at risk, says Canada's privacy watchdog.
Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart told an audience of tech industry experts on Thursday that Canadians spend an average of 45 hours a month online, making them leaders in worldwide Internet usage, but too many web surfers are unaware their voracious cyber appetites could expose themselves and others to unscrupulous fellow users.
"Individuals need the skills to engage in the online world without comprising their own or others' information," she said at the Canadian Internet Forum.
These digital literacy skills are essential for people to stay safe online. Reading the privacy policies of websites, installing anti-virus security on personal computers, rejecting unnecessary cookies, and watching out for scams are all steps individuals need to take responsibility for their online identity.
"I'm hoping Canadians will become increasingly active on these privacy issues."
These skills are vital to people who are spreading vast amounts of information about themselves and others online. Stoddart said Canadians need to be wary of sharing personal information with any unknown apps, websites or people online.
A recent investigation into WhatsApp, a mobile phone messaging service, found the California-based company was breaching Canadian privacy laws by getting access to a user's entire address book, which included phone numbers of non-users. Canadian investigators teamed up with Dutch authorities for the investigation, marking what Stoddart called a global first and an important step forward.
Stoddart said the global span of the Internet requires international co-operation and collaboration especially when Canadians are accessing tools from corporations based outside the country.
With personal information readily available online, Stoddart also sees a need for more safeguards legislated by the government on the corporate use of private information.
"These cases of unexpected, unwanted and intrusive use of personal information calls for more safeguards."
The Internet functions as a "treasure trove" of personal information readily available to be exploited for profit, Stoddart said. Updated privacy legislation would encourage corporations to invest in the necessary security procedures such as risk management, technical security and incident management.
"Corporations really have a moral duty to step up to the plate and invest regulating people's online privacy."
Without the proper procedures, personal information can easily be stolen, lost or mistakenly disclosed. These kinds of privacy breaches are becoming more common, affecting hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Under current laws companies are not required to disclose them.
Stoddart was an outspoken critic of the government's Internet surveillance bill that would have forced Internet companies to disclose personal information to law enforcement. The Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act was scrapped by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in early February.
She said she was pleased by the bill's demise because it would have given authorities too much access to personal information and it was not clear whether that approach would be helpful to combat cyber-crime.