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Majority of Canadians Would Sacrifice Personal Privacy If It Helped Stop COVID-19

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%) feel digital contact-tracing apps must balance privacy concerns with public safety, most (60%) 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 at 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 one-half (45%) 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%) were most likely to support mandatory use.

Instead, most Canadians (55%) 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 one-half say it should be voluntary, nearly three in five (57%) 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% 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%, 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:

Compliance Wanted

As many as 94% 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% 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," Lee says. "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:

KPMG used Methodify, a research automation platform, to survey 2,000 Canadians between May 7 and 12, 2020.

Source: KPMG LLP