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Technology Nearly 75% of Canadian Facebook users plan to change behaviour in wake of controversy

Nearly three-quarters of Canadians plan to change their use of Facebook as a result of recent data misuse.

Sean Kilpatrick

Nearly three-quarters of Facebook users in Canada say they will make some changes to how they use the social-media network after a Canadian whistle-blower revealed a U.K.-based consulting firm surreptitiously obtained personal information of 50 million users, a new survey says.

The revelations have raised significant privacy concerns among Facebook users, including those in Canada, according to the Angus Reid poll. The survey asked 1,500 Canadians what – if any – effect allegations that Cambridge Analytica gathered data from unsuspecting Facebook users will have on their personal use of the social-media platform.

Sixty-four per cent of respondents said they will change their privacy settings or use Facebook less in the future, while 10 per cent said they would suspend their account or delete it altogether. The remaining respondents said they would continue to use Facebook as they always have.

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“These are just Canadian findings. Think about extrapolating that to other Western countries or countries around the world and it really does have the potential for a very significant impact,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director at the Angus Reid Institute.

“Something is permeating the mindset of Facebook users.”

The Angus Reid poll was conducted among a representative randomized sample of approximately 1,500 Canadian adults. Probability samples of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

New opinion polls in the United States and Germany indicate a similar dissatisfaction with Facebook. Fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to follow U.S. privacy laws, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, while a survey published by Germany newspaper Bild am Sonntag found 60 per cent of Germans fear Facebook and other social networks are negatively impacting democracy.

The polls come as Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized for “a breach of trust” in advertisements placed in newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, on Sunday.

“We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” the advertisement read.

The Angus Reid survey was conducted from March 21 to 22, days after Canadian whistle-blower Christopher Wylie alleged that Cambridge Analytica – a firm he helped start in 2013 – secretly obtained personal information from 50 million Facebook users. Cambridge Analytica used that information to build profiles of American voters that were used to help elect U.S. President Donald Trump.

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The controversy appears to have negatively affected Canadians’ opinions of the social-media giant. The Angus Reid poll found that while 41 per of Canadians said they have a favourable view of Facebook, the number of respondents who have an unfavourable view of the social-media platform increased to 33 per cent in March, from 28 per cent in February. Facebook’s unfavourability rating is considerably higher than those of Google/Alphabet, Inc. (10 per cent), Microsoft (11 per cent), Amazon (12 per cent) and Apple (20 per cent), the survey found.

Nearly six in 10 Canadians use Facebook every day, according to the poll. Asked what kind of influence Facebook has had on Canadian politics and government, only 10 per cent of respondents said the social-media platform had a positive effect, compared with 32 per cent who said it was negative.

“Canadians are more likely to say – by a margin of three to one – that Facebook has a more negative than positive influence on Canadian politics and government,” Ms. Kurl said.

“It’s not as though Canadians are of the view that Facebook is somehow improving the way we government or politick in this country, or that it’s improving the way we talk to each other. If anything, they think it’s worsening.”

With files from Reuters

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