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Smart Phones Dumb for Privacy, Says Tel Aviv Univ. Study

New phones leave us with less privacy, especially in the public sector, warn Tel Aviv University researchers.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 5/21/2012, 1:26 PM

Mobile phones in front of Samsung in Seoul
Mobile phones in front of Samsung in Seoul
Reuters

New phones may be “smart" but they are dumb for privacy, especially in the public sector, warns Tel Aviv University researchers.

High-speed wireless Internet access, free messaging services, smart phones and countless “apps” have revolutionized the way people communicate, but they challenge the traditional conceptions of privacy, according to the university’s Drs. Tali Hatuka and Eran Toch.

Smart phone users are more and more caught up in their technology-based communications devices than their immediate surroundings, leaving them with less privacy, the researchers concluded.

The Industrial Engineering department's Dr. Toch, who specializes in privacy and information systems, says that smart phone users “are more willing to reveal private issues in public spaces [and] are also less concerned about bothering individuals who share those spaces.”

Dr. Hatuka, of the Geography department, says that smart phones create the illusion of "private bubbles" around their users in public spaces. She also thinks that the design of public spaces may have to be changed in response to new technology, similar to some public areas being designated as "smoking" and "non-smoking."

The researchers’ survey of nearly 150 participants, half smart phone users and half regular phone users, were questioned about how telephone use applied to their homes, public spaces, learning spaces, and transportation spaces.

While regular phone users continued to adhere to established social protocol in terms of phone use — postponing private conversations for private spaces and considering the appropriateness of cell phone use in public spaces — smart phone users adapted different social behaviors for public spaces.

They were 50 percent less likely to be bothered by others using their phones in public spaces and 20 percent less likely than regular phone users to believe that their private phone conversations were irritating to those around them.

Smart phone users were also more closely "attached" to their mobile devices, the researchers concluded. When asked how they felt when they were without their phones, the majority of smart phone owners chose negative descriptors such as "lost," "tense," or "not updated." Regular phone users were far more likely to have positive associations to being without their phones, such as feeling free or quiet.

The next phase of the study will be a more in-depth analysis whereby smart phone users install an application that the researchers developed called Smart Spaces, which tracks where the participants go over a three-week period and how they use their phones while there.