Skip to main content

Smartphone users more likely to protect mobile privacy

In an age when sharing information is effortless, people still want to keep personal data private, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

In examining how mobile phone users manage their mobile data, Pew found that smartphone users are more likely than those who deploy feature phones to focus on data protection.

Those who carry a smartphone are more than twice as likely as those with less feature-rich devices to back up their phone contents – photos, contacts, files – and clear browsing or search history once finished. Regular handset users are 23 per cent less likely to shut off location tracking than smartphone users.

"The wealth of intimate details stored on smartphones makes them akin to the personal diaries of the past – the information they contain is hard to replace if lost, and potentially embarrassing in the wrong hands," Pew research associate and report co-author Aaron Smith said in a statement.

When it comes to lost or stolen phones, however, everyone is on a level playing field. Pew's survey found that 33 per cent of smartphone owners have lost track of their device, while 29 per cent of other mobile users have found themselves in a similar predicament.

Meanwhile, pressure regarding app privacy transparency has pushed the largest app distributors – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, and Research in Motion – to better articulate policies.

Still, according to the study, more than half of mobile users (smartphone and otherwise) have decided not to install an app upon discovering how much personal information is needed to run it. Another 30 per cent have made the effort to uninstall an app because they were uncomfortable with the amount of personal data it consumed.

"As mobile applications become an increasingly important gateway to online services and communications, users' cell phones have become rich repositories that chronicle their lives," Mary Madden, research associate and co-author of the report, said in a statement. "The way a mobile application handles personal data is a feature that many cell phone owners now take into consideration when choosing the apps they will use."

There is little demographic difference between users who avoid or uninstall apps due to data collection and sharing concerns.

"The story of cell owners' concerns about apps and their personal information is one of consistency across groups," the Pew report said.

This seems to be one issue where iPhone and Android users concur: the oft-battling groups take nearly identical steps when it comes to sharing personal information in apps, Pew said.

The data was collected by Pew via telephone surveys of 2,254 adults age 18 and older, between 15 March and 3 April.