Do a better job protecting mobile privacy, Canadians told

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Do a better job protecting mobile privacy, Canadians told

Not enough Canadians are taking measures to protect the personal information stored on their mobile devices, the country's privacy commissioner said Thursday.

That assessment was based on a survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada that found, among other things, that just four in 10 of those asked use password locks on their mobile devices or adjust their settings to limit access to personal information stored on these gadgets.

The survey found that 74 per cent own at least one mobile communications device such as a cellphone, smartphone or tablet computer.

Privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart said in an interview that people seem not to realize how much information is stored on cellphones. Other people's contact information, text messages, and personal information entered to access various mobile applications are some of the examples she cited.

"Mobile phones increasingly hold a lot of personal information, but it doesn't seem like Canadians think they do," she said. "Seventy per cent of them said they don't use the phones to store personal information.

"But I'm just wondering if either they have older models or they don't realize what the new phones can do or they're kind of discounting the fact that phone numbers are the personal information of someone, and so on."

Stoddart said phones that are accessible without a password are vulnerable, given how easily they can be lost or forgotten somewhere.

"It was a bit disturbing to see that so many people didn't use passwords [to access their mobile device]," Stoddart said.

She added that protecting information on mobile devices will be of greater concern in the future as mobile online banking becomes more popular, turning smartphones into credit and debit cards.

"I hope that when we do this poll the next time in two years that we'll see that attitudes have changed as Canadians become more familiar and aware of the implications of the technology," Stoddart said.

The survey found that 51 per cent used social networks. Among these users, four out of five said they take advantage of features that allow them to protect access to personal information on their accounts.

Still, 45 per cent of social network users said they are concerned about the risks such websites pose to their privacy.

Stoddart said there seems to be a greater awareness of security features on social networks than with mobile devices. Many smartphones have a variety of security features, such as options for encrypting information stored on them.

Stoddart herself was at a loss to elaborate on some of the settings that can guard against privacy infringement.

"Personally, I'm not familiar with a whole range of mobile phones - I've got a Black-Berry," she said. "What I understand is there are settings, and I would encourage people to use the most privacy-conscious settings."

The telephone survey was conducted by Harris/Decima for the privacy commissioner and included 2,000 Canadian adults. The results are considered representative of the population within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.