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Darlene Dolinski doesn't have a lot of time for retailers who ask for her personal information.

"I'm very resistant," said Ms. Dolinski, a business woman in Winnipeg.

"I'll ask 'Why?' I'll ask what they need it for."

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Ms. Dolinski has been the victim of identity theft and now she is so cautious she won't even rent a video from a store that asks to see her driver's licence first.

"I'd rather not rent at that video store because there's no need for that information. I don't know who's working there, I don't know who has got access to their data base," she said.

According to a poll released yesterday by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Ms. Dolinski is part of a majority of Canadians who are leery about giving personal information to retailers.

The survey of 1,000 Canadians conducted for the commission last December by Ipsos Reid found that 52 per cent of those polled resisted requests for information such as name, address, phone number or postal code. Just under half, 45 per cent, refused to hand over the information altogether.

The poll also found that 13 per cent admitted to providing false information when asked.

The biggest reason for the resistance, the poll found, was concern about safety and how the information would be used. Nearly one-third of those surveyed, 30 per cent, said they believed retailers sold the information to telemarketers.

"I am very pleased to hear that consumers are taking charge and questioning requests for their information," Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in a press release.

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Commission spokeswoman Heather Ormerod said this was the first time the commission has done this kind of polling so it was not clear whether Canadians have become more or less resistant. She said, however: "The fact that basically one in two Canadians are asking these questions, we're looking at as a positive thing."

"We kind of see it as people taking control of their information and they are asking the important questions you have to ask to make sure the information is being used appropriately," she added.

Several incidents in recent years have raised concerns about identity theft, including a security breach last year at TJX Cos Inc., the parent company of Canadian chains HomeSense and Winners, which led to the theft of millions of credit card numbers as well as driver's licence numbers. The Privacy Commissioner concluded in a report that the company collected too much personal information from consumers and did not protect it adequately.

Derek Nighbor, a senior vice-president at the Retail Council of Canada, said retailers have become much more aware about securing customer information. "The challenge for retailers is to protect their business interests and protect their customers' private information," he said.

Mr. Nighbor said retailers often ask for information to verify returns or, in the case of postal codes, to monitor where customers are coming from. He said it is key for businesses to clearly communicate why they need the information. "This is about clear disclosure. That needs to be the guiding principle," he said.

The Privacy Commissioner has recognized that businesses need to collect some information. For example, stores often collect some personal information for loyalty card programs.

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The poll found that about 90 per cent of those surveyed supply their correct name and address when signing up for a loyalty program. But far fewer, just 48 per cent, give their date of birth and just 38 per cent give their e-mail address.

"You have a right to your privacy," Ms. Ormerod said. "So you have a right to know what they are going to do with that information."

David Fraser, a privacy lawyer at McInnes Cooper in Halifax, viewed the poll results as good news. "My sense is that people are becoming more sensitive to [privacy issues]"

When asked whether he gives out any information when asked at a store, Mr. Fraser replied: "I don't give it. Well, sometimes I do if they explain to me."

Results of the Ipsos Reid survey are considered accurate, plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More


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