Cyber privacy: Does consumer behaviour match consumer attitudes?

Published on 2022-09-21 by Tessa Anaya

Our research reveals that consumers in Canada expect companies to protect their data, or cyber privacy, when shopping online. But do their own actions reflect their desire to protect their data?

cyber privacy consumer survey

Online shopping exposes consumers to a huge array of choices. As well as decisions like whether to buy a T-shirt in red or blue, they must also make many micro-decisions that could affect their online privacy. Can I trust this store with my credit card details? Should I accept these cookies? Should I create an account or check out as a guest?

In the previous article in this two-part series, we looked at consumer attitudes to cyber privacy in Canada and found that online shoppers expect it as part of the service from brands. In this article, we explore user behaviour in more depth to see whether online shoppers’ actions to protect themselves really reflect their stated desire for privacy.

The data for these articles comes from a survey of over 1,000 online shoppers in Canada. You can scroll to the bottom of this article for a full methodology.

Consumers’ relationship with online privacy is of prime importance to any small to midsize enterprise (SME). Not only should brands understand consumer expectations, they should have the processes and tools in place (which may include encryption software, compliance software, and reputation management software) to meet shoppers’ expectations— and comply with the law. This article also explores some of these tools and how SMEs may benefit from them.

Do consumers in Canada actively choose privacy-focused companies?

As we explored in the first article in this series, consumers prefer to use privacy-focused companies. Our survey data indicates that most do some research into a company’s privacy reputation (72%) and even more (79%) take these privacy practices into account before making a purchase (or not). 

Consumers in Canada also actively seek out privacy-focused companies from the outset of their buying journey. These include search engines that promote the fact that they don’t track users across the web, browsers that offer similar functionality, and email providers that don’t analyse the content of emails to provide advertising. 

how important is consumer privacy for canadians?

Just over three-quarters favour these companies at least some of the time, but the proportion that does so ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ outweighs the proportion that does so ‘often’ or ‘always’.

While appearing trustworthy is a useful way for companies to attract and retain business, making mistakes in this area is a guaranteed way to lose it. Nearly half of the people in our survey (49%) said they have stopped doing business with a company because they disapproved of its data practices. 21% had done so multiple times.

As a baseline, SMEs should ensure that they comply with the necessary data protection regulations for their geography and industry. For this, they may want to consider encryption software and compliance software. Encryption software can be used on data in transit or at rest and protects it against unauthorised access by making it unreadable without a key. Compliance software helps businesses meet relevant legislation by monitoring internal processes and streamlining documentation, audit trails, and reporting. This makes it easier to demonstrate compliance to regulators.

How do customers find out about companies’ cyber privacy policies?

Consumers in Canada use a broad range of sources to research companies’ reputation around online privacy, but the most commonly cited in our survey (71%) was reviews from other customers.

how do users look for consumer privacy information

Checking discussions on social media and investigating to see if a company has experienced a data breach also figured prominently, as did reading company policies (more on that later). This reliance on intelligence from peers reflects another interesting statistic from our previous article— namely that many consumers (49%) are ‘very willing’ to share their opinions when dealing with a company for the first time. In fact, when asked what types of data they would be willing to share in that scenario, sentiment was one of only two data types (along with gender identification) where ‘very willing’ was the most popular response. 

The desire among consumers to both give and receive opinions about brands’ trustworthiness is a powerful cycle that SMEs should be aware of. eCommerce companies that want to gain users’ trust should be aware of their own reputation and actively seek to and promote their own privacy credentials. Reputation management software can be a useful tool here. The software helps brands monitor what is being said about them on social media, blogs, and other web channels and provides reporting tools to share this data with relevant teams. It can also help brands gauge the success of marketing campaigns and plan future activities.

Of the online shoppers who said they research a company’s data privacy reputation before making a purchase, 44% say that they do so by reviewing company policies. However, on the whole, respondents only read policies some of the time when actually providing personal information. Our survey indicates that exactly as many people do this ‘always’ as ‘never’ (10%).

canada privacy policy expectations from consumers

The wide spread of responses to the question may indicate people’s varied level of trust in online companies, as well as the mix of circumstances where providing data is required, and the risk involved. Submitting bank details to make a payment requires a higher degree of scrutiny than inputting an address to find the nearest branch of a store, for example.

Do consumer browsing habits reflect their privacy concerns?

We asked respondents in our survey to tell us about the tools and techniques they use when shopping online to see if their actions match their stated attitudes.

Consumers show a high level of understanding of browser cookies, with most clearing them ‘often’ (36%) or ‘sometimes’ (50%). Less than 2% of respondents said they did not know what cookies were.

Did you know? Third-party cookies, where users can be tracked across sites as they browse, are being phased out by the major tech and advertising platforms. This will have an effect on how firms advertise online, with many having to rethink how they gather and use consumer data. Gartner advises refocusing on first-party data collected with users’ consent, as well as providing other useful tips for SMEs.

Relatedly, many online shoppers in Canada said they do not unthinkingly accept cookies when using the web. Although nearly half (46%) usually ‘accept all’ when encountering a website’s cookie authorisation form, 39% usually choose to decline some, and 7% usually decline all. However, a further 8% close the form using the ‘X’, suggesting they either don’t know or don’t care about how cookies may affect their privacy.

Online shopping— why go incognito?

Finally, some online shoppers said they use incognito mode when shopping online. 9% do so often, while 31% do so some of the time. However, 14% said they had not heard of incognito mode.

Did you know? Many browsers offer some form of ‘private’ browsing functionality, which is known as Incognito mode in Google Chrome, the world’s most popular browser. These modes do not anonymise users completely, however. Usually, they offer a closed-off browsing session that does not use saved data on the device (such as account details and passwords) or save any data from the session (like search history). For online shopping, it can be inconvenient, as users need to log in to their favourite stores and re-enter their payment and delivery information, which may explain the low numbers of people who report using it for this purpose.

Private browsing does have its uses when shopping online, though. People using shared devices in a family might want to hide their activity when buying gifts, for example. Or they might want to discover new products without being offered ones based on their previous buying history.

When buying from a new online retailer for the first time, around half the people we surveyed (51%) said they would prefer to checkout as a guest, while roughly one-third would rather create a username and password, which usually provides an easier way to manage, cancel, or return orders post-transaction. 17% said they would prefer to log in using an existing social profile (such as Twitter or Facebook).

Consumer behaviour here appears to be a balance between convenience and security. According to previous GetApp research, 70% of consumers said they save their data for a smoother checkout process. However, passing personal data to be saved on servers managed by eCommerce companies is not without risk. If those companies suffer a data breach, shoppers’ sensitive information could fall into the hands of criminals who sell it via illicit marketplaces. The risk is especially high when people reuse login details across accounts. If hackers can steal this data from a small, poorly-protected online store, they could then use it to access online bank accounts, health services, email accounts, and more.

Safeguarding valuable customer data should be part of any SME’s overall security strategy. It involves the interaction of people, processes, and technology to develop protections that comply with the law and win customers’ trust. As well as the encryption and compliance software mentioned in this article, SMEs may also want to consider firewall software, email security software, and threat intelligence solutions.

In summary

  • Consumers choose privacy-focused companies and will stop using a brand if they disagree with its data protection practices.
  • Consumers are active in voicing their opinions about companies’ cyber privacy practices, and other consumers value these opinions highly.
  • Shoppers have high awareness of cookies and how they work.
  • Respondents usually prefer the convenience of using their saved data to buy online rather than the more secure method of inputting new data for each transaction.
Looking for compliance software? Check out our catalog.

Survey methodology:

GetApp’s Consumer Privacy Survey was launched online in June and July of 2022. The survey was completed by 1,012 consumers who fit our criteria. The sample of participants is representative of the population of Canada regarding aspects of age and gender, and the criteria for selecting participants are as follows:

  • Canadian resident 
  • At least 18 years old
  • Shops online at least once per month

Note: The applications and technologies selected in this article are examples to show features in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication


This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.


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About the author

Content Analyst at GetApp, dedicated to helping SMBs access the insights that elevate their organizations. B.A. in English, University of Michigan. Based in Barcelona.

Content Analyst at GetApp, dedicated to helping SMBs access the insights that elevate their organizations. B.A. in English, University of Michigan. Based in Barcelona.