Irving Street Functionality

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posted 26 Feb, 2022

Field Study of Smartphone (Un) Locking Behavior and Risk Perception

author Harbach, M., Von Zezschwitz, E., Fichtner, A., De Luca, A., & Smith, M.
title It’s a Hard Lock Life: A Field Study of Smartphone (Un) Locking Behavior and Risk Perception.
howpublished 10th symposium on usable privacy and security (SOUPS 2014) (pp. 213-230)
year 2014
month July
where Leibniz University Hannover; University of Munich; heinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität

The authors performed two studies, a Mechanical Turk survey and an installed-app field study, about user perception and use-burden of smartphone lock/unlock functionality. They were interested in learning a variety of different things including

The two studies complement each other; the design of the field study was informed by findings in the online survey. In general the authors find that people spend substantial time (but experience only moderate annoyance) unlocking their phones, and that even people who do keep their phones locked are broadly unconcerned about the security of their phone. They recommend a finer-grained approach to phone security than the existing locked/unlocked dichotomy.


I was particularly interested in their methods for the field study; installing a custom app on participant’s phones is an ideal research mechanism for many kinds of studies, but it’s difficult in a number of respects. Getting the app to work may or may not be difficult (I have no mobile-development experience), but additional care would need to go into making sure the app itself doesn’t pose a security risk for participants. (This is ironic, because such an app wouldn’t do anything unusual relative to normal marketplace utility apps people use, but I would anticipate the IRB holding it to a much higher standard.)