More than half of app users have uninstalled or decided to not install an app due to concerns about personal information
Many cell phone users take steps to manage, control, or protect the personal data on their mobile devices. In a new study by the Pew Internet Project of how cell phone users manage their mobile data, we asked about five specific behaviors in which cell phone owners might engage. Two of these activities were asked of the 43% of cell owners who download cell phone applications. Among this group, representing 38% of the adult population, we found that:
- 54% of app users have decided to not install a cell phone app when they discovered how much personal information they would need to share in order to use it
- 30% of app users have uninstalled an app that was already on their cell phone because they learned it was collecting personal information that they didn’t wish to share
Taken together, 57% of all app users have either uninstalled an app over concerns about having to share their personal information, or declined to install an app in the first place for similar reasons.
Outside of some modest demographic differences, app users of all stripes are equally engaged in these aspects of personal information management. Owners of both Android and iPhone devices are also equally likely to delete (or avoid entirely) cell phone apps due to concerns over their personal information.
Cell phone owners take a number of steps to protect access to their personal information and mobile data
In addition to these measures of app-specific behaviors, we also asked about three general activities related to personal data management on cell phones. These questions were asked of the 88% of the adult population that owns a cell phone of any kind. Among this group, we found that:
- 41% of cell owners back up the photos, contacts, and other files on their phone so they have a copy in case their phone is ever broken or lost
- 32% of cell owners have cleared the browsing history or search history on their phone
- 19% of cell owners have turned off the location tracking feature on their cell phone because they were concerned that other individuals or companies could access that information
Nearly one third of cell owners have experienced a lost or stolen phone, and 12% have had another person access the contents of their phone in a way that made them feel their privacy was invaded
Even as cell owners take steps to maintain control over their personal data in the context of mobile phones, the physical devices themselves can occasionally fall into the wrong hands. Some 31% of cell owners have lost their cell phone or had it stolen, while 12% of cell owners say that another person has accessed their phone’s contents in a way that made them feel that their privacy had been invaded. Despite the fact that backing up one’s phone is typically conducted as a safeguard in the event that the phone is lost or stolen, cell owners who have actually experienced a lost or stolen phone are no more likely than average to back up the contents of their phone.
The youngest cell phone users (those ages 18-24) are especially likely to find themselves in each of these situations. Some 45% of cell owners in this age group say that their phone has been lost or stolen, and 24% say that someone else has accessed their phone in a way that compromised their privacy.
Smartphone owners are generally more active in managing their mobile data, but also experience greater exposure to privacy intrusions
Smartphone owners are especially vigilant when it comes to mobile data management. Six in ten smartphone owners say they back up the contents of their phone; half have cleared their phone’s search or browsing history; and one third say they have turned off their phone’s location tracking feature.
Yet despite these steps, smartphone owners are also twice as likely as other cell owners to have experienced someone accessing their phone in a way that made them feel like their privacy had been invaded. Owners of smartphones and more basic phones are equally likely to say their phone has been lost or stolen.
About this survey
The results reported here come from a nationwide survey of 2,254 adults (age 18 and older) between March 15-April 3, 2012, including interviews on landline and cell phones and conducted in English and Spanish. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. Some 1,954 cell users were interviewed in this sample and many of the results published here involve that subset of users. The margin of error for data involving cell users is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.