Everything You Need To Know about Digital Privacy on Your Smartphone

What is digital privacy, and when did you lose it? Here’s how to secure your phone number and take back your privacy.

We’re more connected than ever. We pair our phones with everything from televisions and stereos to thermostats and doorbells. We’re constantly giving information like our name, email address, and phone number to apps, social media platforms, and other websites.

This kind of integration and data sharing is revolutionary, and it has made our lives easier in many ways. But it can also make us vulnerable and lead to threats to our privacy.

Privacy for access: that tradeoff has become a fact of life.

But many consumers aren’t comfortable with the bargain, and in recent years, there’s been a backlash. We’re now learning just how reckless some companies have been about how and where they use our information.

To fight back, digital privacy trends like transparency in cookie- and ad-tracking have increased in recent years. For example, starting with iOS 14.5, Apple is offering app-tracking transparency that lets users both easily opt out of tracking and block companies from tracking their activities on apps — information that’s often sold to brokers or third-party advertisers.

Google, too, is following suit; it’s planning to limit and phase out Google Advertising ID (GAID), a device identifier for advertisers that allows them to anonymously track user ad activity on Android devices, as well as discontinue support for third-party cookies on Chrome.

Legislation is supporting digital privacy as well: The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulates how companies protect EU citizens' personal data via requirements like data processing consent, anonymizing collected data, providing data breach notifications, and safely handling data transfer across borders.

Two-factor authentication is becoming increasingly standard, and we’ve even seen the passage of mobile phone privacy laws in the U.S., like an anti-robocall bill.

But what does it all mean? Let's take a closer look at why digital privacy is important, smartphone security threats, why scammers want your phone number, how to prevent robocalls, and how to secure your phone number and data

What is digital privacy?

Also known as internet or online privacy, digital privacy is the protection of an individual’s information when using online platforms on smartphones or computers.

Digital Privacy

Digital privacy means that you control what information you share and with whom, and that your information isn’t compromised when you use the internet or connected devices.

Why digital privacy is important

Digital privacy is important because your personal information belongs to you. Your boundaries for what you’re comfortable sharing should be respected, and you should be safe from security threats.
Often, companies ask for your personal data in exchange for access to things like deals, freebies, exclusive content, and newsletters. This personal information may include your name, birthdate, email, phone number, and/or home address.

At the time, it feels easy to give away that information. It’s just your phone number, right?

But the information is used far beyond this in-the-moment access. Your data can then be tracked and followed to provide companies intel on things like where you shop, what you liked on a social media page, and what websites you visit. Marketers want to learn about your habits so that they can tailor campaigns and services to you based on your actions.

Some consumers like this; they enjoy receiving ads customized to them that offer potential deals or insight into new products or services. But the majority of Americans feel the potential risks they face because of data collection by organizations outweigh the benefits.

In fact, Pew Research Center found that about 81% of U.S. adults feel they have very little or no control over the data that companies collect about them, and 79% say they’re ​​concerned about the way their data is being used by corporations.

81%
Share of U.S. adults who feel they have very little or no control over the data that companies collect about them
79%
Share of U.S. adults who say they’re ​​concerned about the way their data is being used by corporations
Source: Pew Research Center

And think about the serious security breaches that have happened at even the most trusted brands. What happens when these companies you’ve trusted with your data — sometimes even without your knowing, via cookies, pixels, and IP addresses — are hacked?
Your personal information is valuable — and that’s why digital privacy is important. Data collection can be helpful in some ways, but it can be problematic or dangerous when your info is gathered, shared, or sold without consent, or when it’s used negligently or maliciously.

Smartphone privacy issues

Privacy concerns in the digital world don’t just apply to your computer or laptop; they encompass your phone and your phone number, too.

Mobile apps often request information like your phone number, email address, and location. Sometimes, this makes sense, like for ride sharing. But sometimes you’re asked to share data unnecessarily — and it can be used without your knowledge, and lead to smartphone security threats.

Smartphone privacy issues are an important part of digital privacy because smartphone users spend more time than ever in apps: Around the world, users access more than 30 apps on a monthly basis, and launch an average of at least nine apps per day.

Think about how many people are sharing their phone number to access these apps, or content within them. Then consider how much that exposes them online, making their number — and their digital privacy — vulnerable to robocallers, scammers, and spammers.

Why do scammers want your phone number?

Scammers want your phone number because it’s valuable. It acts as a username for many apps and platforms, allows you to reset your account when you forget passwords, and enables two-factor authentication for more secure logins.  

Think of your phone number like your social security number: It’s unlikely to change, and it’s a key to your private information.

Once scammers get hold of your phone number, they can inundate you with spam calls and texts until you block them or change your number.

What’s all this junk?

Text blocker

Spam texts

From January to April 2020, Americans received 9.4 billion spam texts, and since then, monthly spam text totals have risen by an average of 12% per month.

Robocalls

Robocalls

Over the whole of 2020, Americans received 54 billion spam calls.

future

The future of spam

By the end of 2021, we anticipate that spam calls could reach 70 billion, and spam texts could reach 90 billion.

But spammers aren’t just trying to annoy you (even though they’re great at it); they’re trying to steal more personal information, perform identity theft, and defraud you.
They hide behind spoofing technology, which allows them to call from a disguised phone number and makes it nearly impossible to identify who’s behind the call. And they send scam texts asking for personal information, or that contain links to spoofed websites or websites with malware.
Anyone is susceptible to smartphone security threats:

  • Consumer losses to phone fraud hit an all-time high in 2020, representing more than 50% of the $3.3 billion reported losses to digital fraud that year.
  • 31% of fraud reporters said they were contacted via phone call.
  • 27% of fraud reporters said they were contacted via text.
  • Consumers lost $319 million to COVID-19 related fraud.
  • Nearly one third of Americans suffered at least one of three kinds of major identity theft problems in 2019: 21% had someone put fraudulent charges on their credit or debit card; 8% had someone take over their social media or email accounts without their permission; and 6% had someone try to open a credit line or get a loan using their name.

How do scammers get my phone number?

Scammers can get your phone number in a variety of ways. Often, consumers think they’re receiving spam calls and texts because a business sold their phone number to a list. But numbers can get out other ways.
Some ways scammers may have gotten your number include:

Targeted

You were targeted.

A spammer got your number through social media or it was overshared through online forms like contest sign ups

Autodialed

You were autodialed.

Spammers use auto-dialing services that send texts to any phone number they can find.

Exposed

Your information was exposed.

Your phone number may have been exposed during a data breach.

sold

Your number was sold.

Sometimes, phone numbers are sold for profits by a third party.

list

Your number is on a list.

If you previously engaged with a call or text scam, your phone number might be on a list that scammers use.

What are the consequences of my information being exposed online?

When your phone number and other personal information is exposed, you don’t just become a target for spam calls and texts; you also become vulnerable to smartphone security threats that can lead to fraud, identity theft, financial losses, and loss of control over your accounts and devices.

The more that new systems, safety measures, and mobile phone privacy laws are put in place (undoubtedly great steps), the more scammers will adjust their tactics and find new weak spots.

The Evolution of Spammers

When the pandemic hit, average monthly robocalls declined temporarily by 50% in April 2020, compared to June 2020, because shutdowns severely limited access to the technology scammers need to make large volumes of calls. But spam texts quickly took the place of robocalls as the new platform for phone scammers, growing an average of 16% month-over-month. In the latter half of 2020, total monthly spam texts exceeded total robocalls by more than 2 billion per month.

If you think “well, my information’s been out there forever, and nothing bad has happened yet” consider that scammers are always getting better at their crimes. Case in point:

  • Reports of identity theft in the U.S. more than doubled in 2020
  • The amount of money consumers lost to fraud in 2020 was 83% higher than in 2019
  • Just over one third of all consumers who filed a fraud report with the FTC in 2020 reported losing money, up from 23% in 2019
  • In 2020, the average losses reported for phone scams were $1,200 per robocall and $800 per spam text

How can I identify where my phone number is exposed online?

There are a few simple ways to identify where your information is exposed online.

google search

Google search

Do a google search of your name and your phone number. Is it publicly available?

soclai media

Check social media

Check your social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram and see if your number is listed.

online identity

Use an online identity monitoring service

An online identity monitoring service like IdentityForce can be useful to proactively understand if your information has been compromised.

How can I protect myself and increase my digital privacy?

Learning how to protect your phone number and other information isn’t a one-and-done approach.
You must take an active role in your digital privacy.

Here are a few steps you can take right now:

  • Add your number to the National Do Not Call Registry (but be aware of its limitations).
  • Strengthen the privacy settings on all your devices.
  • Turn off auto-complete when possible.
  • Get a password manager.
  • Use two-factor authentication whenever possible.
  • Use privacy apps like IdentityForce.
  • Download a spam call and text blocking app like Robokiller.

RoboKiller eliminates 99% of unwanted calls and texts.

Start blocking spam now with RoboKiller.

And here are a few things you can do regularly to protect your privacy:

  • Regularly search your name and phone number online. When you find sites where you information is listed, delete it.
  • Let unknown calls go to voicemail. Don’t pick up calls from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Never click a link in a spam text or reply.
  • Be careful downloading apps you don’t trust.
  • Read terms of service thoroughly.
  • Don’t log into websites from unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

What should I do if I get an illegal robocall?

If you receive an illegal robocall, there are a few best practices.

thumb down

Don’t

  • Engage with the call.
  • Press follow prompts or press numbers, even if it claims that it will lead you to a real person.
  • Share any personal information, even if they already have information about you that seems legitimate.
thumb up

Do

  • Report spam calls to the FTC.
  • Block numbers that leave spam messages.
  • Prevent spam calls and texts with an app like RoboKiller.

How to prevent robocalls

Some of the top questions on your mind are likely about how to prevent robocalls, how to protect your phone number, and how to make sure your phone is secure.

The most effective solution is to use a third-party robocall blocker app like RoboKiller. Recommended by the FTC, robocall blockers use call data or reports from users, the FTC, and other sources to predict which calls are illegal or likely scams, then intercepts those calls before they ever reach you.

Pro tip

Ensure the spam call-blocking app you’re choosing to download is committed to the safety and privacy of your information. Read RoboKiller’s statements on privacy.

You can also strengthen the blocking features on your devices. For example, iPhones have an option to silence unknown callers, which blocks any incoming calls that aren’t saved to your address book.

Here’s how to enable this setting:

  1. Go to “Settings,” then “Phone.”
  2. Toggle “Silence unknown callers” on.
  3. Calls from unknown numbers will not ring when they call. (Note: This function will silence all unknown calls, so if you’re expecting an important call that could come from outside your address book — say, from a doctor, school, or mechanic — you may miss it.)

You can also add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry at no cost (although this generally does not prevent spam calls because of advanced call spoofing technology, and because scammers do not abide by the law).

Or, you can ask your phone provider if it offers call-blocking or call-labeling services. Some of these services are free or included in certain plans, but some may cost an additional fee.

See more: The FTC’s list of call blocking and labeling tools currently available to consumers.

Protect your phone number and digital privacy with RoboKiller

Robocalls and spam texts are becoming more popular every year, and they’re compromising our digital privacy.

Not only is this spam annoying and illegal, but it can also be highly dangerous and lead to fraud, financial loss, and identity theft. While we can’t eradicate the world from scammers (yet!), we can arm ourselves and take back our privacy.

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  1. Search for “RoboKiller” in your app store and tap “Download”, or
    click here to sign up online
  1. Open the RoboKiller app
  1. Select the “Continue” button
  1. Enter your mobile phone number to begin activation

RoboKiller is a spam call and text blocking app that is 99% effective at stopping unwanted calls and texts before they ever reach you. We support you with the tools you need to take back control of your phone number and secure your private information.

Try RoboKiller for free for 7 days.

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