With more functions comes greater fear of exposure
Most people are terrified at the thought of another person scrolling through their phone. While a locked screen and general good manners are usually enough to keep your phone private, occasionally you might need to hand it to another person – if they need to make an emergency call, for example, or if you need help to fix an issue. This feeling of vulnerability extends from when someone picks up your device in front of you, to online security issues you might encounter.
As phones become more useful, they easily capture numerous areas of our lives that we don’t necessarily want others knowing about. Source
It’s not possessiveness or guilt that causes the discomfort – these days, our phones are extremely personal devices, full of private and sensitive information. Many people would prefer to lose their wallet rather than their phone, because the contents of a wallet are often actually less valuable and much easier to replace. Phones often now hold banking information, photos, private messages, emails, and often have saved passwords for a large number of online functions. While bank cards can be cancelled and drivers licenses can be renewed, even backups like cloud storage still don’t make the process of setting up a new phone much easier.
Handing over personal information
The more time we spend on our phones, the more data we are allowing our phone to gather. The content on our phones is becoming increasingly representative of our inner lives as we browse webpages, shop online, communicate with loved ones, and share photos. While the information is harmless enough on its own, when strung together it can form a very clear picture of a person.
Many users might think that the contents built up on their phones are devoid of anything that can reveal our identities, but anything that we record on our phone represents something meaningful to us, and therefore reflects our identities.
The Big Era
The feeling of being constantly monitored in the big data era can worsen the fear over privacy issues when your phone falls into the hands of others. Source
Often, mobile phone users are aware that their phones can become a privacy risk, but they are not quite sure how to prevent it. As scandals like the Facebook information leaks become public, they present mobile phone users with a vague sense of their privacy being breached, but no clear way to stop it from happening.
As smartphones become more integrated into our lives, it becomes harder to maintain the privacy barrier – for example, we would ideally be able to keep our locations private at all times, but with popular apps like Google Maps requesting location information in order to function, the value of keeping a location private becomes degraded. The next time another app asks for permission to access location, users will probably be slightly more inclined to say yes.
The tendency to fear others getting hold of our phone has become even more amplified in this era of big data, as we become aware that information is valuable to businesses, and the slightest detail about us can turn us into a target for marketing.
With increased data comes a higher level of security, with phones now routinely equipped with biometric scanners or complicated passcodes to gain access. Apps and websites have their own security features that make it difficult for any outsider to access information. However, the added security can make people feel more relaxed about the kind of sensitive information they store on their phones – which contributes to the feeling of fear when someone else holds their device.
Smartphones have become indispensable for most people, and with an increased number of applications comes more data, some of it sensitive. The most a user can do is ensure their data is kept as private as they can – using secure passcodes wherever possible, for example.
However, only the most disciplined people can keep their phones so clean of personal data that they would have no worries if another person was to gain access to it. For most smartphone users, the best solution is to recognise that the feeling of unease is mostly related to how many functions our phones now have, and the trade-off for having an incredibly intelligent, useful, hand-held device might just be a sinking feeling when someone else asks to use it.