Recently I learned that a friend of mine had lost her iPhone. Initial attempts to find the phone by calling met with failure – no answer means no one must have found the phone, right? Using Apple’s “Find my iPhone” tool, she was able to determine the phone was still turned on and to pinpoint its location. She promptly locked the phone and included a message stating the phone was lost and to contact her at the number provided in the lock message. After no response, she decided to travel to the phone’s location and amazingly enough, she was able to recover the phone!
The story does not end here. She arrived at the residence, with fiancé in tow, and knocked on the door. The individual who answered the door knew who she was right away, although they had never previously met. This is when things became odd. Apparently the finder spent the short time while the phone was unlocked looking through the data (pictures, messages, emails). “He acted like he knew us and everything about my life by just by looking through my phone”, she said.
“They were enamored by my life and kept asking me personal questions”, she continued. “I felt like my privacy was invaded. I have nothing to hide but they wanted to see my engagement ring and kept asking me personal questions – about my dogs, my wedding, my garden, scooters, traveling to different countries. They thought I was from Hollywood!”
The disturbing part of the finder’s behavior is they obviously knew how to access the phone’s data, but stated they did not know how to answer it when my friend attempted to call. They also could not find a suitable reason for not responding to the phone’s lock message. Having heard enough and starting to feel extremely uncomfortable, my friend thanked the finder and promptly left.
Losing your iPhone is bad enough—you’re out hundreds of dollars and now you need to buy a new one—but the idea that someone quite possibly would have access to your personal data stored on the phone is even worse. Our smartphones are always with us and many of us rarely turn them off. Despite the amount we use them and the dependence we place on our smartphones, a 2012 study found that 62% of smartphone users do not password protect their devices. The study also found that smartphone users are 33% more likely to become a victim of identity theft than non-users.
Thankfully there are a number of ways for iPhone users to maintain their privacy. First and foremost, use a passcode lock. It is a basic step to take: Enable a four-digit passcode in Settings > General > Passcode Lock. This will stop someone from using your phone without entering the correct series of numbers. You can even enable an option to erase your phone if someone enters the wrong passcode 10 times. Numbers only go so far. You can turn off “Simple Passcode” in the Passcode Lock menu which will allow you to use numbers and symbols as well. The more complex your passcode, the safer your data. While it’s best if you do this before your iPhone is lost or stolen, you can use the Find My iPhone tool to set a passcode over the Internet.
According to a June 2013 Pew Report, 56% of American adults have a smartphone. In fact, smartphone users now outnumber traditional mobile phone users. While they provide us with seemingly unlimited amounts of useful tools, most of us don’t consider the massive amount of personal data that we carry around in our smartphones. There are plenty of other measures you can take to protect the privacy of this data. A quick Google search will provide you with countless tips and tricks on doing so. Privacy in the age of the smartphone is forever changing and it is important to be aware.
What can your smartphone reveal about you? Do you have a similar story? I’d love to hear from you.