More and more we are managing and conducting our financial transactions digitally, including online banking, overseeing our spending, budgeting, and managing our debt. These actions create a wealth of digital data about our spending habits, debts, credit scores, and income.
Digital and Mobile Banking
In a 2019 study, 76 per cent of Canadians surveyed reported that they use digital channels, both online and mobile, to conduct the majority of their financial transactions. Of those, 88 per cent of Canadians reported they have used online banking within the last year, with 53 per cent citing it as their most common method of banking. However, the survey results also indicated that mobile banking is on the rise in Canada, particularly among Millennials, with 36 per cent reporting mobile banking as their primary mode of banking, compared to 23 per cent for all other demographic groups.
When an individual uses online or mobile banking, their financial institution collects a variety of data, including personal information such as name, email address, age, gender, occupation, and income range, as well as information about the web browser and device being used to access these services.  Most, if not all, banks use third-party cookies and other activity trackers to understand how users engage with site features, as well as whether they click on ads related to their services on other websites. This information is used to better understand what services and features to offer to individuals. Banks can also see information related to purchases (such as item and name of seller), payments (such as hotel reservations), transfers, and debts associated with the credit and debit cards attached to an individual’s account.
After receiving complaints from Canadian residents, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada launched an investigation into Statistics Canada in 2018. To support their record of Canadian financials, the national agency had been harvesting personal transaction information without the consent of 500,000 households across the country. Records were obtained by StatsCan from the TransUnion of Canada credit bureau, including fifteen years of personally-identifying information (e.g., social insurance numbers, names, addresses, dates of birth) and credit information (i.e., balance owed and overdue, et al). StatsCan has expressed plans to request information from nine other large financial institutions, which could enable the collection of even more granular financial data (including ATM withdrawals, transaction history, and loan payments). Canadian law does not require StatsCan to inform individuals of such data requests; however, the privacy commissioner has urged changes to be made to increase individuals’ privacy rights when it comes to government agency access to increasingly detailed personal information.