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Zoom-ing in on Canadians’ Internet use before and during the pandemic

May 17, 2022, 11:00 a.m. (EDT)
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“You’re on mute.” More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic—and the seismic shift to virtual work and events—it must be one of the most-uttered phrases.

As for the actual data on Canadians’ Internet usage before and during the pandemic, Statistics Canada has lots of them. So let’s dial up some of the numbers—with a high-speed connection, of course.

In 2020 and early 2021, three-quarters of Canadians reported that they were online more frequently than before the pandemic, increasing their Internet use to contact family and friends, access entertainment or government services, buy food and goods, and to work from home.

Based on responses to the Canadian Internet Use Survey, we classified Canadians into five user groups: non-users, basic users, intermediate users, proficient users and advanced users.

A year before the pandemic, about one in four Canadians had either little or no engagement with the Internet and digital technologies; these individuals are defined as non-users or basic users.

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The upward shift in Internet use during the pandemic was most evident among older Canadians. For example, the combined share of seniors who were either non-users or basic users declined 14 percentage points from 2018 to 2020. This drop represents a shift of almost 869,000 seniors from the “have not” to the “have” side of the digital divide.

Furthermore, while all types of users made more online voice and video calls in 2020 compared with 2018, the proportion of intermediate users (55%) who made video calls was 32 percentage points higher than among basic users.

Virtually all advanced users (97%) and over 9 in 10 proficient users purchased goods online in 2020. One in four basic users shopped online in 2020up nine percentage points from 2018.

More of us are connected through our mobile devices than ever before—you may even be reading this on the StatsCAN app or mobile website. Nearly 85% of Canadians had a smartphone for personal use in 2020, an increase of five percentage points from 2018.

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Over half (53.2%) of Canadians aged 15 and older reported that the first thing they do after waking up is to check their smartphone and that it’s the last thing they do before going to sleep (51.2%).

Nearly half of Canadians in 2020 (47%) used their smartphones while watching television, up four percentage points over two years. How’s that for multitasking?

About 43% of Canadians said that they checked their smartphone every 30 minutes in 2020—an increase of seven percentage points from 2018. Close to three in four (70.6%) young Canadians aged 15 to 24 used their smartphone every half hour, up from about half (55.5%) two years prior.

Virtually the same proportion of that age group used social networking websites or apps in 2018 (91.1%) as in 2020 (91.3%), but there was an uptick (+3.5 percentage points) in sending messages using an instant messaging app.

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In addition to an increase in online video calls and instant messaging, there were other pandemic-related shifts in Internet use. Compared with 2018, fewer Canadians searched for locations or directions in 2020, which was expected because of travel bans and stay-at-home directives.

There were also fewer checks for school registration and class schedules, a likely reflection of the widespread cancellation of in-person classes.

Finally, security and privacy continued to be concerns—close to 6 in 10 Canadians (57.9%) experienced a cyber security incident in 2020. Roughly half of those incidents related to spam emails, while 20% involved redirections to fraudulent websites, and 10% related to viruses or other computer infections.

Now, after reading all of this Internet data while on the Internet, who’s up for a video chat to discuss?

Hey, you’re still on mute.

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Contact information

For more information, contact the Statistical Information Service (toll-free 1-800-263-1136514-283-8300infostats@statcan.gc.ca) or Media Relations (statcan.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.statcan@statcan.gc.ca).