identity theft

Privacy and Mobile Devices

By German Cutz, Ed.D. for UConn Extension


technologyYour Private Information: At Risk on Mobile Devices

With easy access to mobile devices your personal and private information are at risk. Ninety five percent of Americans use one or more cellular phones, tablets, laptops, GPS (Global Positioning System), and other mobile devices. Most cell phone users carry with them their home address, contact lists which may include family members’ phone numbers, e-mail addresses, banking information, and much more personal information.


A Password Might Not Be Enough…

Although most of these mobile devices can be protected with a password, there are many situations when, even with a password, your personal information may be easily accessed. For example, when downloading phone applications (or apps), phone owners have to provide personal information. When phone users realize that they have to provide some of their personal technology information, they often decide not to download apps. Fifty four percent of app users have decided not to install a phone app or have removed some phone apps from their phones because of this concern.

When you lose your phone or it is stolen from you others can access your personal information and may misuse it. The following story clearly illustrates what can happen. Peter, who is 65 years old, had his iPhone stolen. It was not protected with a password. He had a long list of contacts including his wife. To tell his wife that his phone had been stolen, he went to a public phone. When he called his wife, she told him that she had received his text message and had sent him the bank pin number he had requested. Peter immediately reacted and called to alert his bank. By then, most of his money had already been withdrawn.

Indeed, one out of every three phone users have lost or have had their phone stolen and had another person access their personal information including photos, mailing lists, or other files. To avoid losing valuable personal contacts information, around 41% of mobile device users back up their personal information on external hard drives, CDs, etc.

Your personal information can also be accessed through other devices like your car’s GPS. Many GPS users have their home address and probably other relatives’ addresses stored in the device for easy access. If your car is broken into and you have your home address in your GPS (and your garage door opener!), thieves can easily find your home; open your garage door and … well, you get the picture.

The situations described here give you an idea of how easy it is to get personal information from your mobile devices and use it in harmful ways. Here are some tips on how to stay on guard and protect yourself:


1      Set a password on every mobile device: When you can’t set a password (like GPS), don’t use real names or real addresses.

2      When creating your contact lists:  Instead of using mom, dad, wife, son, etc. find other creative ways to identify your family members: Player1, Couch2, Star1, etc.

3      Instead of adding your home address:  Use the address of a nearby public place such as your favorite store or the nearest post office. Make sure that you know the way home from there.

4      When using smart phones: Turn off the location-tracking feature.

5      Back up all personal information:  You may already backup your laptop data, but you should also back up personal information on all your mobile devices, especially phones. Storing information in more than one location will ensure that if a device is lost or stolen, you’ll still have a copy of important files.

6      Clear your browsing history on ALL your devices: When using smart phones (iPhone, Android, Galaxy, etc.) clear the browsing history or search history.

7      Don’t leave your GPS and garage door opener in your car: It’s just like leaving your keys and your home address in your car.


Suggested Resource:

Boyles, J., Smith, A., Madden, M. (2012). Privacy and Data Management on Mobile Devices. PewInternet.

PewInternet and American Life.