Confidence in the security of online banking and retail rising in B.C.

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The COVID-19 pandemic put British Columbians more in tune with technology for work and leisure. Virtual meetings have become the norm, and many employed residents of the province expect them to remain in place even after the virus is eradicated. Most of us chose to file our taxes online last week, and we have relied on apps to get both groceries and prepared food delivered to our homes.

When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked British Columbians about their use of technology, we learned that more than three in four of the province’s residents are partaking on four activities at least a few times per month: accessing banking information (88%), visiting websites of blogs (87%), looking for deals on websites (79%) and using an instant messaging service (77%).

The fact that almost nine in 10 of the province’s residents are banking online regularly is impressive. Part of this growth is related to the development of apps that have greatly simplified processes such as depositing cheques. British Columbians aged 18 to 34, many of whom have not experienced banking without online options, are the biggest adopters (69%), but their counterparts aged 35 to 54 are not far behind (65%). Also, just over half of those aged 55 and over (51%) are doing their banking online at least a few times per month.

The rise in online activity coincides with concerns over possible setbacks. Sizable proportions of British Columbians have worried” occasionally” or “frequently” over the past couple of months about having their personal information stolen over the internet (53%), computers and technology being used to invade their privacy (52%) and somebody hacking into their own computer or smartphone (49%).

The security features of banks and online retailers have become significantly better over the years, with immediate alerts and encrypted systems. In fact, almost nine in 10 British Columbians (87%) say they are “very” or “moderately” comfortable” accessing banking information and shopping online.

The level of confidence is lower for two other activities, with 73% of British Columbians saying they are comfortable making a charitable donation online – a method that has enabled many organizations to expand their reach. Fewer of the province’s residents (54%) are comfortable commenting in an online forum that requires their email address.

For British Columbians, having their email address attached to an online comment seems more dangerous than checking their bank balance. While only 23% of British Columbians have only one email address, just over two in five (41%) possess two and more than a third (35%) created three or more.

Still, even with the precaution of multiple addresses, the main hindrances related to cybersecurity are directly related to the emails. Three in five British Columbians (61%) have been the target of “phishing” messages, where somebody attempts to acquire personal information by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. More than half of the province’s residents (54%) received an email offering them money for their help and assistance. In addition, three in 10 (31%) say their computer became infected with a virus while they were browsing the internet, while 15% say somebody hacked into their email address or their social media platform.

Aside from the perils that our online activities can create, there is also an element of curiosity. Three in five British Columbians (62%) have typed their name on Google to see what has been posted about them on the internet. Women are more likely to have Googled themselves than men (65% to 58%).

A third of British Columbians who Googled themselves (32%) found nothing, while more than half (55%) say what appears on the internet about them is “accurate” and 13% say it was “inaccurate.”  The survey shows that more British Columbians are choosing to conduct specific tasks online. There are still concerns about what could transpire if our personal information falls into the wrong hands, but the level of confidence in banks and online retailers is significantly higher now than it was in the early years of this century. •

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from April 20 to April 22, 2021, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.