Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

Smartphones store a wealth of valuable personal data—photos, videos, e-mail, texts, app data, GPS locations, and Web browsing habits—that is increasingly falling into the hands of advertisers, app makers, law enforcement, and crooks.

A survey published recently by the University of California, Berkeley, law researchers suggests there is a significant disconnect between many people’s perception of the security and privacy of data on their smartphones, and the reality.

The majority of mobile phone users surveyed for the report said, for example, that they didn’t like the idea of other people accessing the information stored on their mobile phones. More than 80 percent said they would not want a work colleague to use their phone, and half said they would not want even close friends to access their device. The majority of respondents also said they believed their mobile phone to be as private as their personal computer. The study involved telephoning 1,200 households on a mixture of landlines and mobile devices, and was funded by Nokia.

The reality is that millions of people already provide mobile data to marketers, business analysts, and law enforcement, often without their knowledge or consent (see “What Your Phone Knows About You” and “Getting More Value From Cell-Phone Data”). 

Most of the people surveyed for the study said they believed law enforcement need special permission to access information on a phone. In fact, law enforcement can guess a password to unlock a confiscated device, and can impersonate the phone’s owner by sending texts if the phone is unlocked. Neither activity has been struck down by the courts.

Four-fifths of respondents said they “definitely” or “probably” wouldn’t let apps collect a contacts lists. Yet that is what many companies do (see “Mobile-Ad Firms Seek New Ways to Track You” and “Apple Ignored Warnings on Address Book Access”). 

Seventy percent of respondents said they would definitely not permit their phones serve them location-based ads. Many phone apps already collect location-based data, some of which is later used commercially. This sentiment suggests that it could prove even harder than expected to make money from advertising as more Internet usage migrates to mobile devices (see “Facebook’s Earnings Underscore its Challenges” and “Facebook Considers Mobile Ads That Know What You’re Doing”).

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Computing, security, privacy, smartphones, mobile phones, marketers, mobile data

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me
×

A Place of Inspiration

Understand the technologies that are changing business and driving the new global economy.

September 23-25, 2014
Register »