3 June 2016 – An experiment, which asked participants to rate various people and objects in their lives in order of importance, has discovered that 37.4 per cent of participants rate their smartphone as more, or equally, important as their close friends. The results of the Kaspersky study, which was conducted by the universities of Würzburg and Nottingham Trent, show that smartphones are set to overtake friends in importance.
- 29.4 per cent of participants said their smartphone was equally important, or more important, to them than their parents
- 21.2 per cent said their smartphone was equal to, or more important, than their partner
- 16.7 per cent rated their smartphone in the highest importance category, although only 1.1 per cent said their smartphone was more important than anything else in their life.
The Kaspersky study asked participants to position images representing various people and objects in their lives, in relation to themselves on a diagram of a chessboard. While family, friends and pets were generally placed closer to the participant than their smartphone, many other significant people in the participant’s lives – including the people they work or study with every day – took a back seat in comparison to their digital companions.
Despite the value placed on devices as a source of entertainment, information and data storage, participants in a supporting experiment were more than happy to share their smartphone PIN number when asked, exposing access to all their personal and sensitive information. During the experiment 93 per cent of participants gave away the PIN to their digital best friend when asked.
Astrid Carolus, Media Psychologist at the University of Würzburg, led the study. She comments: “Our phones are an integral part of our lives, and this study brings psychological proof of this. Our friend-like connection with our smartphones means that we place an incredible degree of trust in an inanimate object – so much so, that we consider it a closer and more important element of our lives than many other people.
With this in mind, we were surprised to see that it was nevertheless very easy for us to get hold of smartphone PIN codes. We asked people to sit in a waiting room for a period of time, and then asked them for their body height and smartphone PIN code. Without much hesitation the vast majority of people gave it to us. This is worrying, because it suggests that we are willing to put our digital friends – and the data they hold – at risk.”
Equating a digital device with human qualities is nothing new. Experiments in the 1990s found that people ascribed human traits to computers when interacting with them.
David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, comments on the security implications of having an emotional connection with a device: “Following on from last year’s study into Digital Amnesia – the phenomenon that suggests we forget the information we entrust to our devices – this latest experiment further proves the strong emotional connection we have with our phones. Another interesting finding was that people rate their smartphones as far more important to them as laptops or other devices that hold the same degree of information, highlighting the symbolic role our phones have for us as digital companions, forever at our side. Having this emotional relationship with your smartphone can mean your decision process when it comes to protecting the data stored on it is more limited. We already know many people forget to secure their smartphones, as they view them almost as an extension of themselves, and this can make them vulnerable to cybercriminals.”
Ascribing more importance to our phones than real-life friends and acquaintances shows just how important it is to secure the information we entrust them with. Kaspersky Lab has been researching in the social effects of digitalization and how this makes people potentially more vulnerable to cybercrime for the last two years.