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Smartphone safety lagging, Consumer Reports finds

The magazine releases its annual "State of the Net" report, and some findings offer a rude awakening for smartphone users.

Tips on keeping your smartphones safe, from the June issue of Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports

Sometimes, you are better off with a dumb phone.

That way, you aren't exposed to all the potential risks of carrying a smartphone. As Consumer Reports shows today in its annual "State of the Net" report, carrying a modern mobile phone is a heckuva convenience but creates all sorts of problems that go beyond what most people realize.

The magazine interviewed 1,656 adult smartphone users and extrapolated the results nationally:

  • Many users don't secure their phones. Almost 40 percent don't take even minimal security measures.
  • Malicious software is a real threat. Last year, 5.6 million Americans experienced such problems as sending unauthorized text messages and having accounts accessed without permission.
  • Users' whereabouts can be exposed. One percent said that they or a person in their household had been harassed by someone who used location tracking to pinpoint their phone; 7 percent wanted to turn off location tracking but didn't know how to do so.
  • Apps are too intrusive. About 48 million Americans users had stopped installing an app because it requested too many privileges.
  • It's hard to control your privacy. Blame small screens and lengthy privacy notices.
  • Millions of children need protection. Five million preteens use smartphones and may unwittingly disclose personal information.
  • Mobility has its risks. As more of us do more daily tasks on our phones (e-mailing, shopping, social networking), a lot more of our private information is on a small gadget that can be easily lost or stolen.
  • Home computers are at risk, too. About 3.4 million Americans had to replace an infected computer last year.

Consumer Reports offers tips on how to stay safe on your phone. See the image at the top of this post for some good pointers, along with the "do this" images below.

To mark the release of the report, I am moderating a public discussion from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. today at the Columbia Journalism School in New York on some of the report's findings.

"Consumer Trade-offs in a Mobile Culture: Privacy, Payments and Social Media" will include a presentation by John Morris, associate administrator and director of Internet policy for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Other speakers are Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research; Susan Grant, director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America, and Mick de Meijer, mobile account director at MXM Mobile. If you can't be there in person, you can follow along with the hashtag #CRprivacy.

I encourage you to post your questions in the comments below and I'll be sure to ask them. You can also tweet them to me at @sree.

Below are other tips culled from Consumer Reports. All images are presented with permission from the magazine.

Here is a link to Consumer Reports' Internet Privacy hub, which is filled with useful tips.