Most Canadians would sacrifice personal privacy if it stopped COVID-19
Stopping COVID-19 trumps personal privacy
Most would download a contact-tracing app, but want it to be optional and prefer it to minimize risks to personal privacy
While nearly all Canadians (92 per cent) feel digital contact-tracing apps must balance privacy concerns with public safety, most (60 per cent) would sacrifice their privacy if it helped stop COVID-19, finds new research commissioned by KPMG in Canada.
"Our poll findings show that while Canadians care deeply about their privacy and civil liberties, public health and safety trumps privacy in a national emergency," says Lydia Lee, partner and national digital health leader, KPMG. "Ideally, contact tracing should allow for both privacy by design and public health and safety."
The KPMG survey reveals that Canadians are divided in their views of whether a digital contact-tracing app should be made mandatory by government. Less than half (45 per cent) say government should require individual Canadians to use their smartphones to anonymously share their COVID-19 status as part of contact tracing. Quebec residents (51 per cent) were most likely to support mandatory use.
Instead, most Canadians (55 per cent) say digital contact tracing should be voluntary, citing privacy concerns and potential abuse of civil liberties, with two thirds saying they would not download such an app, calling it still "too invasive."
Even though more than half say it should be voluntary, nearly three in five (57 per cent) of all Canadians don't believe it would be effective unless it is mandatory.
"It's clear that Canadians understand that contact-tracing apps are effective if participation is high, but the design of such apps must limit threats to privacy as most people aren't comfortable letting government have free rein to track their phones," says Sylvia Kingsmill, partner and national digital privacy leader for KPMG. "To make this work, governments will need to be completely transparent on how data will be collected, stored, erased, and managed – it's about trust.
"There should be clarity about the circumstances under which that data will be shared, now and in the future. To this end, policies should be implemented and enforced to prevent misuse and/or abuse of the data to provide assurances to the public that principles of accountability and data minimization are being respected."
Overall, 62 per cent of Canadians are in favour of letting the government use location tracking to send phone alerts to people who have come into contact with a person infected by COVID-19, and even more, 82 per cent, would support an app run by the health system that shows aggregate community "hot spots" for COVID-19 that would allow individuals to make their own decisions about their health.
"Contact-tracing apps are meant to supplement our public health agencies as they trace post-exposure to an infected person," says Karina Guy, an Edmonton-based KPMG partner and digital health leader in Western Canada. "But, investment in digital apps that can also help prevent exposure of vulnerable populations are likely more effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Then, based on community and individual disease risk profiles, Canadians can make informed choices about their movements through society to prevent spread."
Key Poll Findings:
- 45 per cent of Canadians think the government should require individual Canadians to use their smartphones to anonymously share their COVID-19 status as part of contact tracing.
- In Quebec, the province with the highest rate of infections, 51 per cent say the government should require a mobile phone-tracing app, well above the national average.
- 55 per cent feel the use of smartphones to anonymously share their COVID-19 status as part of contact tracing should be voluntary, not required by the government.
- More than two in five (44 per cent) and over a quarter (27 per cent) cited privacy concerns and the potential abuse of civil liberties, respectively, about digital contact tracing
- Nevertheless, 34 per cent of those opposed to mandatory implementation would still sign up and download a contact-tracing app, and the remaining two thirds who wouldn't, call even a voluntary app "too invasive."
- 57 per cent of Canadians don't believe a voluntary contact-tracing app would be effective.
- 62 per cent of Canadians are in favour of letting the government use location tracking to send phone alerts to people who have come into contact with a person infected by COVID-19.
- Most Canadians are concerned about public health and safety more than they are about kick-starting the economy.
- 94 per cent say it's their civic duty as Canadians to flatten the COVID-19 curve. This jumps to virtually everyone surveyed in Atlantic Canada, at 99 per cent, and falls to a still-strong 88 per cent among ages 18-24, or Gen Z.
- 71 per cent say they would download a contact-tracing app if it helps stop community spread and "keeps me, my family, my community safe", compared to only 54 per cent who would download it if it meant they could go back to work or end the economic lockdown.
- 60 per cent of Canadians said, "I would sacrifice my privacy if it helped stop COVID-19."
- 82 per cent would be more comfortable with an app run by the health system that shows aggregate community "hot spots" for COVID-19 so they can make their own decisions about their health. This jumps to 90 per cent in Atlantic Canada.
- Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) say any contact-tracing program needs to be administered by an independent body from the provincial or federal government.
As many as 94 per cent of Canadians agree, strongly or somewhat, that the federal government should require companies, especially in manufacturing, food-processing and industrial sectors, to be audited for compliance to public health requirements. This jumps to 97 per cent in British Columbia.
"It's clear that companies will need to be much more transparent about how they are operating or plan to reopen in order to rebuild and maintain trust among not only their customers but their employees," says Ms. Lee. "It's both a public health and safety and reputational risk issue. For some, it's also matter of protecting critical supply chains."
Other Poll Highlights:
- 85 per cent of Canadians say cross-border, non-essential travel should not resume until the end of the pandemic.
- 83 per cent of Canadians say they will get a COVID-19 vaccination shot when it becomes available.
- Interestingly, people aged between 35 and 44 years are less inclined than other age groups to get inoculated, with 75 per cent saying they will take a COVID vaccine. By comparison, 89 per cent of aged 65+ say they will get vaccinated.
- In terms of regional differences, 87 per cent of people in Atlantic Canada would get a vaccination shot, while 78 per cent of Albertans would.
- 93 per cent strongly or somewhat agree that governments and public health authorities need better, real-time data to inform their decisions.
KPMG used Methodify, a research automation platform, to survey 2,000 Canadians between May 7 and 12, 2020.
About KPMG in Canada
KPMG LLP, an Audit, Tax and Advisory firm (home.kpmg/ca) is a limited liability partnership, established under the laws of Ontario, and the Canadian member firm of KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"). KPMG has more than 7,000 professionals/employees in over 40 locations across Canada serving private- and public-sector clients. KPMG is consistently recognized as an employer of choice and one of the best places to work in the country.
The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International, a Swiss entity. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity, and describes itself as such.
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Caroline Van Hasselt
KPMG in Canada
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