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Phone Users Fast, Loose with Privacy, Study Says

Credit: Kostenko Maxim

(Image credit: Kostenko Maxim )

Smartphone users who worry about getting malware on their mobile devices are also more likely to download free apps that suck up lots of personal information. This seeming contradiction is just one of the findings in a new study of smartphone owner behaviors conducted by security software company Norton.

The poll showed that while many smartphone users are increasingly aware of security risks, such as mobile malware and privacy infringements, they are still willing to trade a certain amount of security or privacy for conveniences such as free apps.

MORE: 15 Best Mobile Privacy and Security Apps

"Ironically, those that worry about getting a smartphone virus think they understand app permissions, but in reality, these people are nearly as uninformed as those that do not worry," the Norton report concludes.

What would you do to get a free app? According to Norton's poll, up to 68 percent of respondents were willing to trade "some of their privacy" for a free app. But what kind of privacy does that mean? Thirty-six percent were willing to give up their location. Seventeen percent would offer up their friends' contact information (names and phone numbers). And 15 percent would give up a personal photo in exchange for a free app.

(There likely was overlap among the three categories, and the total number of respondents willing to sell out their own or others' privacy was probably less than 68 percent.)

Free apps classified as "entertainment" (games, videos, music) were most likely to infringe on users' privacy, both in frequency and severity, Norton reports. The survey also found that two out of five consumers were not worried about getting malware on their mobile devices.

The poll, which surveyed about 6,000 adults from around the world, did not differentiate among Android, iOS or Windows Phone users. (The latter two platforms have never had substantial malware issues.) The only criteria were that respondents own a smartphone or tablet, and had downloaded an app onto the device in the previous three months.

Jill Scharr is a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she regularly covers security, 3D printing and video games. You can follow Jill on Twitter @JillScharr and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, onFacebook and on Google+.