Symantec study reveals 93% of people access data on lost smartphones

For most of us, the prospect of losing our smartphone is pretty daunting. Your phone probably knows more of your secrets than any one person in your life. Private emails, entire galleries of images from friends and family, access to all of your online accounts (including social media, professional sites like LinkedIn, and maybe even your financial institution’s online banking service), it’s all there.

Thinking about that kind of information falling into the wrong hands is scary for a lot of people. But if you lost your phone, what’s the most likely scenario? Would it be returned? Would the person keep your phone but wipe all of your information? Would they post your Snapchat screen grabs for all to see?

Symantec Canada recently ran something of a sting operation to figure out what people generally do when they come across a homeless smartphone. First, the company “lost” 60 smartphones in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottowa, Montreal and Halifax. Then it monitored the phones to see what people did with the them once they picked them up.

The good news is that if you lose your phone, there’s a slightly better than 50/50 chance the person will try to return it to you. Apparently, 55 percent of people attempted to return the phone to its rightful owner. The bad news is that even those kind souls are pretty nosy and will take a peek at your private data before they give your phone back. According to the Symantec, 93 percent of people accessed the devices and half looked at private photos. A total of 63 percent looked at corporate email and a little more than half (52 percent) opened the password file. Thirty-five percent accessed the bogus online banking application loaded on the lost phone.


The results of the study come hot on the heels of a report from Avast! that revealed many people selling their phones on eBay don’t do enough to wipe their personal data from the device before shipping it to the buyer. The company purchased 20 second-hand cell phones from users on eBay and discovered over 40,000 photos on the phones, including 1,500 pictures of children, 750 photos of women in various stages of undress and 250 dick pics. They also discovered the identity of four previous owners, and more than 750 emails and text messages.

The biggest mistake people make is thinking that deleting the data is enough. Similar to how deleted files can easily be recovered from a hard drive, someone can fairly easily retrieve files you have removed from your phone. The answer to the problem is overwriting the files, not just deleting them. This can be done fairly easily (there are numerous Android apps that do it) but not a lot of people know how or that it’s even necessary. Avast! (of course) has an app that can do it for you. It’s called Avast! Anti-Theft and it’s free on Google Play.