New PIAC Report: The Privacy Box: Enabling Consumer Choice and Meaningful Consent in Online Privacy
16 August 2017, OTTAWA – A new research report published by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) shows Canadians value their online privacy and would be interested in the development of a universal “Privacy Box” which would allow them to access standardized privacy settings for online services and applications.
Focus groups in English and French with internet users in Toronto and Ottawa showed many Canadians value privacy for privacy’s sake. Focus group participants were especially concerned about sharing of their information with third parties and the collection of certain types of sensitive information such as location, employment and sexual orientation. Many also felt that online tracking activities were not clearly disclosed.
“PIAC’s report shows that many consumers feel lost when it comes to their online privacy, even when many mainstream services publish privacy policies and some provide personal privacy settings,” said John Lawford, Executive Director and General Counsel to PIAC. “It is time to re-examine the effectiveness of current privacy policies and privacy tools.”
When presented with the concept of a “Privacy Box” initiative, focus group participants emphasized the importance of the right to be able to choose when to share their information and to determine how that information is used by or disclosed to third parties. They were also concerned about prohibiting the collection of information they believed was sensitive or private. Participants generally preferred a Privacy Box that was prominent, straightforward, and easy to understand, with a limited number of options.
Privacy Box Sample Design

“This research shows consumers are interested in a Privacy Box, a one-stop shop for key privacy settings and information which they could set and revisit anytime worry-free,” said Alysia Lau, Counsel, Regulatory and Public Policy to PIAC and author of the report. “All online companies should take these findings seriously.”
The report recommends the incorporation of privacy by design requirements into the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and the allocation of public funding for privacy by design initiatives. The report also recommends that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada issue guidelines on the adoption and implementation of a Privacy Box, as well as a privacy by design standard, and that it re-examine the effectiveness of current privacy tools such as privacy policies and online user terms.
“Privacy by design has a bright future in protecting personal privacy. Policy makers must recognize this and provide the support and funding these initiatives need,” added Lau. “Online privacy will remain a critical consumer issue moving forward.”
Access the full report in English here.
Access the full report in French here.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has received funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada or of the Government of Canada.
For more information please contact:
John Lawford
Executive Director & General Counsel
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002 ext. 25
Alysia Lau
Barrister & Solicitor | Counsel, Regulatory and Public Policy
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC)
(613) 562-4002 ext. 38