Has lockdown made consumers more open to privacy?

By Nicola Vizioli

EY Canada Cybersecurity Partner

EY Canada partner helping to bolster defenses in the face of evolving cyber risks.

5 minute read 25 Jan. 2021

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  • Has Lockdown made consumers more open to privacy - EY Global consumer Privacy Survey 2020 (pdf)

  • Bill C-11 - Strengthening the protection of personal information for Canadians

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Findings from the EY Global Consumer Privacy Survey reveal that the pandemic is shifting consumers’ expectations of data privacy.

The privacy revolution triggered in Europe with the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) started a global transformation in consumer privacy that Canada has quickly followed. This demand for regulation, coupled with our rapidly and abruptly consolidated reliance on digital services and platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has triggered consumers to rethink what they expect in exchange for their personal data.

In this new reality, consumers not only express an interest in understanding the ways their data is collected, but also in wanting to be part of the conversation on transparency and value exchange.

The resulting message for organizations is clear: to meet the expectations of today’s consumers and anticipate their future needs, it’s time to rethink data privacy.

Our latest research, the EY Global Consumer Privacy Survey, aims to help organizations understand how those needs are evolving by examining consumers’ attitudes towards personal data sharing and analyzing the ways in which their behaviour is changing. In particular, we address three critical questions, which we believe are shaping a new era in data privacy:

  1. The expectation: how do consumers expect organizations to treat their data?
  2. The exchange: what do consumers want in return for their data?
  3. The evolution: how is data privacy shifting for a post-pandemic world?

So, what does this mean for businesses? We give an overview of the new data privacy landscape and outline three important ways in which business leaders can navigate it.

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  • Download the Global Consumer Privacy Survey 2020

1. Deliver the certainty consumers crave

Despite an uncertain outlook, the pandemic has cemented consumers’ resolve to have control over their personal data. When we asked them what is most important when they choose to share their personal data with an organization, the majority point to secure collection and storage (63%), control over what data is being shared (57%) and trust in the company collecting their data (51%).

While the desire for privacy remains a constant, the pandemic has increased levels of consumer data privacy awareness. In fact, 54% of consumers say that COVID-19 has made them more aware of the personal data they share than they were before the pandemic.

Organizations that want to maximize the collection of personal data need to focus on establishing their data protection and privacy capabilities. Those that cannot provide assurance that data is collected and stored safely may start to see customers go elsewhere.
Yogen Appalraju
EY Canada Cybersecurity Leader

The data also shows how important generational differences are emerging. It finds that younger generations are much more aware of privacy and sharing data – and the impact of data and technology – than older generations. Our research findings indicate that millennials (53%) and Generation Z (47%) are more likely than Generation X (43%) and baby boomers (35%) to take the time to understand how a company uses their personal data by reading available materials.

2. Tailor offerings to build trust

For organizations, the ability to build trust with consumers is a huge opportunity. For consumers, much of that trust depends on the perceived value they receive in exchange for their personal data. That means businesses will have to actively balance transparency and value exchange with data collection.

Younger generations are more trusting with their data


of millennials say they are willing to share their search history in exchange for more personalized online experiences, compared with 23% of baby boomers.

Perhaps as a result of their increased awareness, younger consumers share their data more freely. For instance, half of millennial consumers (50%) say they are willing to share their search history with a large tech company in exchange for more personalized search results and online experiences, compared with 23% baby boomers.

By contrast, older generations place a premium on controlling who can access their data. Two-thirds of baby boomers say a lack of control over third-party access to data decreases the level of trust they place in an organization. That is the highest rate of all the generations in the study.

3. Navigate a new privacy landscape

Not only has the pandemic increased consumer data privacy awareness, it’s also ushering in a new normal for data exchange – one that is based on shared assumptions, values and experiences. Before the pandemic, many consumers unconsciously exchanged personal data for the benefit of personalized products and services. That’s shifting. Consumers are now actively providing information to ensure their health and safety and protection of their communities.

As the Canadian economy starts to reopen, getting people back into the office, into stores and into schools will require new collection of personal information to ensure viable health and safety. Half of consumers believe the pandemic has made them more willing to part with their personal data if they know it is contributing to the research effort and/or community wellness.

But Canadian businesses need to be aware that this new landscape and sense of awareness is being met with new regulations. Bill C-11, the proposed legislation known as the Digital Charter Implementation Act, aims to modernize protections for the personal information of Canadians and grant individuals more control and transparency through eventually enacting a new privacy law for the private sector, the Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA). Similarly, Bill 64 seeks to modernize the protection of personal information in Quebec. Ontario recently closed its public consultation process to analyze the possibility of enacting a local privacy regulation and other provinces might act shortly as well.

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  • See how your organization may be impacted by Bill C-11 here

There are three key changes to Canada’s Digital Charter legislation that businesses need to note:

  • Increasing control and transparency for individuals when organizations handle their personal information 
  • Additional responsibilities for organizations handling personal information
  • Enforcement measures through increased fines and a new enforcement tribunal

While not yet law, the CPPA sends a strong signal that Canada is keeping trust in privacy a priority. As businesses juggle meeting health and safety needs while delivering a captivating experience for consumers, they should start working on understanding and planning for the CPPA’s operational impact and opportunities. Planning ahead will allow organizations to design and implement the necessary privacy controls while addressing the trust, transparency and value exchange that today’s consumers are demanding.


The world is adapting to new ways of living and working, with increasing reliance on digital platforms and services. Consumer expectations and data privacy awareness are evolving, and regulations are trying to keep up with new expectations. By actively adapting their privacy policies to align with consumer expectations and meet evolving needs, organizations can stand out from the crowd and build a significant competitive advantage.

About this article

By Nicola Vizioli

EY Canada Cybersecurity Partner

EY Canada partner helping to bolster defenses in the face of evolving cyber risks.