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Smartphones, Foolish Security Choices

One quarter of smartphone users store "intimate" images on their mobile devices, says security vendor AVG.

Thomas Claburn

February 25, 2013

3 Min Read

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People with smartphones could be smarter in their security practices. One smartphone user in every four, according to security firm AVG Technologies, stores intimate photos on a smartphone or tablet, a practice that makes a lost or stolen device a potential privacy problem.

AVG didn't specifically define "intimate" in its survey. "The mobile survey asks whether or not people have intimate photos of themselves on their smartphone or tablet, allowing the definition of 'intimate' to be purely up to the respondents' interpretation of that word," a company spokeswoman said in an email.

In other words, among the intimate photos said to reside on a quarter of respondents' mobile devices, not every image is likely to deserve an "X" rating. Some might not even qualify for an R or PG-13. Even so, the finding suggests that a significant percentage of smartphone users have some security and privacy blind spots.

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AVG surveyed 5,000 smartphone users in U.K., U.S., France, Germany and Brazil about the kinds of data kept on mobile devices. The company says that although respondents were "acutely aware" of data threats -- 50% of respondents recognized that mobile devices are less secure than computers -- they missed potential privacy implications.

JR Smith, CEO of AVG, said in a statement that the survey demonstrates consumer confusion about safe usage of mobile devices and urged companies to do more to educate consumers about privacy and security.

So, while we wait for the inevitable launch of Fruit of the Loom briefs stitched with, "No Cameras Beyond This Point," AVG has some modest advice to help those who don't recognize the privacy and security implications of carrying a phone loaded with potential blackmail material.

-- Don't install (Android) apps from outside the Google Play store.

-- Don't install anything that sounds too good to be true, such as "free ringtones" or "free wallpaper."

-- Keep your phone's operating system up-to-date, even if mobile carriers don't necessarily make this easy.

-- Install an anti-virus app on your phone -- not exactly surprising advice from a company that makes an anti-virus app.

AVG neglects to mention the most obvious way to protect one's privacy: Don't store intimate photos on your phone.

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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