How devastated would you be if you lost your wallet or purse? All of your credit cards gone. Cash too. And perhaps travel passes, office access smartcard, driving licence, ID card, store loyalty cards, and more.
Maybe it’s already happened to you. You probably remember how terrible it made you feel. And maybe you subsequently found the wallet, or it was returned to you. Remember how happy and relieved you were.
In technical terms, a wallet only contains a tiny amount of information. All those credit card numbers and other data only add up to less than a kilobyte. With a few phone calls to your bank and some other agencies, you can cancel the cards without too much hassle, arrange a new access card for the office, and then go shopping for a new wallet.
But what about your lost phone?
What would happen if you can’t find it? How worried would you be? Not just about the cost of replacing it, but about the information that’s on it? Could someone turn it on and get straight into your Facebook account without being asked for a password? What about your work email? Are there any intimate photos and videos? Maybe the lost phone is linked to your Dropbox or OneDrive account, which means that all of your documents and other files are accessible. Maybe the lost phone has irreplaceable images or sound recordings of deceased relatives that you haven’t backed up elsewhere. Perhaps your history files contain information about sites you’ve been visiting, or people you’ve been communicating with, which you’d really not want anyone else to know about.
Hopefully your lost phone will turn up
Maybe it’ll be returned by the person who found it, or by the store in which you left it. Or by the police who recovered it from the thief. Maybe you will successfully find your lost device. But you’ll never be sure who’s been looking at the files on it. And with a modern phone containing 32 GB of storage, that’s way more than the single kilobyte of information in your wallet. Precisely 32 million times more, to be exact.
Even if the lost phone is back in your possession, you’ll never know whether anyone read your private messages or watched your personal video clips. Or sent emails on your behalf, from your work account. Unlike a credit card, which you can cancel with a single phone call in order to stop any further misuse, you can’t turn back time and ask people to forget what they saw on your device. You won’t even know who those people are, or whether there’s just 1 of them or 5,000.
So while you still have the chance, protect your information. Take some time to look through what’s stored on your phone, and any accounts that can be accessed from your phone without requiring a password.
If it’s information that needs to be there, make sure it’s properly protected with an App locker, and also think about switching to a web browser which leaves no traces of what you’ve been doing. As for any information that doesn’t need to be on your phone right now, delete it.