Protecting your smartphone

CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal)  Is the smartphone the 21st century bedside drawer?  David Ryan Polgar from joined us to help us star safe on our media devices.

Segment Highlights:

  • The Importance of Password Protection
  • Not Blaming the Victim
  • The Proper Etiquette When Looking Through Someone’s Smartphone

Your Smartphone is Your Nightstand Drawer

Would you be comfortable with someone going through your nightstand drawer? Snooping through your most intimate belongings and riffling through all of its contents?

I am guessing no.

Now think of how many people look through your smartphone. While your phone is on one hand a playful source of entertainment, social media updates, and PG-rated family photos, it is also a gateway to financial records, confidential messages, and perhaps photos or videos that wouldn’t be Disney-approved.

In other words, your smartphone contains access to areas of your life that you would normally store far away from the prying eyes of your children and friends. While you may think of someone looking through your recent vacation photos on your phone as akin to having them flip through a photo album in your living room, it is important to remember that your guest is often within scrolling distance of the more personal areas of your life. The areas you may have wrongly assumed were off-limits. Embarrassment is often one swipe away.

Take the recent situation of a teacher in South Carolina whose unsupervised smartphone led to her firing. When eductor Leigh Anne Arthur wasn’t looking, a sixteen-year-old in the classroom allegedly went through the contents of her smartphone. The allegation is that the teenage student in her class found, and then shared, a nude photo of the teacher.

The photo was taken on Valentine’s Day for the teacher’s husband. Something that may be in one’s nightstand drawer. In this unfortunate situation, the teacher’s nightstand drawer was right there in her classroom where an unscrupulous student went through its contents. While this has all the trappings of a salacious story that the media loves, it also provides a valuable teachable moment for us as parents wielding smartphones.

The Importance of Password Protection

We may have heard it a 100 times, but perhaps we need to hear it 101–make sure that your smartphone is password protected. Yes, signing into your phone will add a little time and a slight amount of annoyance with using your smartphone. According to a Gallup Poll last year, 72% of Americans check their smartphone at least once an hour–with 11% checking their phone every few minutes. That’s a lot of times you’ll have to punch in a password (or use a different type of protection, such as an unlock pattern), but consider it a tradeoff well worth your extra time spent.

Even though we may joke that most of us are glued to our smartphones, the truth is that there are many times during the day that it is not in your possession. In addition, there is the prospect of losing your phone or having it stolen. Crucial information is much easier to grab off a smartphone without basic security measure like entering a numeric or alphanumeric combination. But according to a recent study by Consumer Reports, only 36% of us have a 4-digit pin to lock our smartphones. Most of us are providing fairly easy access to our digital nightstand drawer.

Not Blaming the Victim

The teacher whose intimate photo was allegedly stolen to passed around was the clear victim in the scenario. While the situation highlights the need for enhancing security on our smartphones, it by no means reduces the culpability of the perpetrator. This is a broad lesson for social media in general for us and our families. We should know, along with our children, that looking through someone else’s smartphone without permission is a major violation of their privacy. A lack of a password in no way offers an excuse. Entering someone’s unlocked door without permission, for example, is still classified as breaking and entering under criminal law.

In the South Carolina case, the teen has been charged with computer crimes for allegedly gaining access to the teacher’s smartphone without permission, and has an aggravated voyeurism charge for copying and distributing the photo.

The Proper Etiquette When Looking Through Someone’s Smartphone

What is the proper etiquette when looking through someone’s phone? It is the same as when you invited to someone’s house: you can enter and look at where you have either actual permission or implied permission. You wouldn’t enter someone’s bedroom on your way back from the bathroom, and likewise it is improper to continuously scroll them someone’s smartphone or open up additional files.

The moral of the South Carolina story should not be that we shouldn’t have intimate photos on our smartphones. The real lesson is that what you are carrying around in your pocket is both your beautifully clean living room that you expect company to visit, along with your nightstand drawer that is out of reach from friends and family. Keep your nightstand drawer locked.

Information provided by David Ryan Polgar, the Digital Family Expert at ASKfm. He is also the co-founder of the Digital Citizenship Summit, a frequent tech commentator, attorney, and former college professor.


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