14 Nov 2013

#datababy Twitter test: what your phone says about you

For the last 24 hours, you’ve been telling us how you use your phone, and when, through the #datababy Twitter trial. From morning alarm to lights out – here’s what we found out.

Remember the days when your phone was just that: a phone?

For most of us, the primary use of a mobile is to browse the web, followed by checking social networks and listening to music. We carry our phones with us everywhere we go, and have access to applications that allow us to access maps, check bus timetables and decide what restaurant we should eat at when we get to our destination.

The Channel 4 News Data Baby has been exploring the secret life of your phone. We created a fake, virtual identity, whose data we could monitor and track on a forensic level and over just one day we tracked the stream of information flowing to and from one phone. The results make for surprising reading: the phone made 350,000 requests to 315 servers in just 24 hours.

During this period, the #datababy Twitter trial has been sending out hourly questions to assess how you use your phone throughout the day, and we’ve had hundreds of responses.

We found that over 90 per cent of our respondents never turn their phones off; that most of us start using our phone within five minutes of waking up – and that consumers do care about privacy.

Appy days?

Twitter response to apps Q

We asked our followers to tell us how many applications they had on their phones – and how many they were actually using. The gap between the two numbers was vast, with over half of respondents telling us they had at least 20 applications on their phones that they rarely use.

Of those who replied, 25 per cent had over 100 apps on their phone, but fewer than 50 apps that were actively running. That’s at least 50 apps silently collecting data – and communicating it – when the phone users aren’t even using them.

The person with the most apps on his phone by far was Twitter user @Gambler1967, who told us he had 206 apps and has used 24 apps over the last two weeks.

However the average number of apps actively running on a phone, according to our survey, was 11.5.

Twitter user @22bishop told us: “111 installed (inc. pre-installed), using 3 right now: Twitter, Facebook and Zite (a custom news app)”

@paddletastic said: “installed: 70ish including plugins, Active: 6, in use: 2”.

And @JonathanWood said: “#datababy 107 apps, over 50 open. Use twitter, Mail, messages, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google +, hootsuite, google maps & London Tube last”

Early birds

Twitter response to morning phone habits

After you wake up how many minutes does it take for you to look at your phone?

Previous research from O2 has shown that 70 per cent of us use our phone as an alarm clock. But we wanted to know how long it takes before we look at our phone once we’ve woken up.

A staggering 40 per cent of our respondents said they checked their phones in a matter of seconds after waking up – and some were even astounded that we had suggested it might take minutes.

Around 30 per cent told us they checked their phones in under five minutes after waking.

@Britt_W said: “A) I use it as my clock and B) I want to know what’s happened during the night.”


When we asked whether our followers would be interested in using a social media or email service that promised to keep its data secure, we were surprised at the response.

While there appeared to be a degree of interest from some people, the majority of responses – 70 per cent – were sceptical about whether security of their data would be guaranteed.

@Gingernuts73 said: “I wouldn’t believe it for a nanosecond”, while @TheNuState said: “The question is not would you sign up. The question is: how you would you trust what they promise?”

And @22bishop said: “I think you have to assume that at some stage your data would be vulnerable or subject to access by govt agencies.”

Permission denied?

Permission Twitter response

The first question we asked in the #datababy Twitter trial was: have you ever decided not to install an app because of permissions it seeks?

The overwhelming response to this question was a resounding “yes”.

That could be because the people with an interest in the #datababy trial are more likely to be privacy conscious.

But our respondents’ concern perhaps shows that app developers will need to factor data security into the way they operate.

Twitter user @richamies told Channel 4 News about an app called XPrivacy, which claims to prevent applications from leaking privacy sensitive data.

He answered “yes” to our question, and added: “And now I also restrict what the applications can see of me.”


Twitter users on switching their phone off

We’re not using it when we’re asleep. But only 9 per cent of our respondents told us they turn their phone off at night time, or at all.

@brian_weegie told us that the only time his phone goes off is “if it stalls or freezes”.

And for 18 per cent of our respondents, getting on an airplane is the only time they switch their phone off.

@nickvarney said: “never. Sometimes on ‘do not disturb’, but never off”.

But while the vast majority of our respondents are pretty much hooked on their phones, a few people told us they make a point of enforcing a digital detox from time to time.

But among those who took part in the #datababy Twitter trial, Kate Carruthers is a lonely voice in a chattering, always-connected, digital world. Keep on reading for just some of the responses: