Conversational security in smartphones

Can you have a truly private textual conversation where other people have access to your mobile phone?

We have apps that maintain security by end to end encryption – WhatsApp and Signal for example. But the security of your personal data and, in this case perhaps your personal thoughts must start at your finger. In our connected world with apps that log themselves into, for example Facebook, Twitter and such, anyone who has access to your smartphone effectively becomes you. That should be obvious! But the traditional phone was a household appliance that anyone could pick up and use and to some extent the smartphone remains so. Can you imagine the suspicion that would be raised if a wife would not let her husband use her smartphone?

Yes, WhatsApp, Signal and other such apps are easy to use and offer a secure environment but the apps themselves simply open when asked and give access to all the conversations stored in them. Were these to require a keyword or a fingerprint then at least casual non-owner access to one’s smartphone would not yield any private conversations within the apps. Some apps are better thought out. My bank app needs a fingerprint or password, and my password vault is set to work by passwords only. Those passwords are not written down anywhere. This is the basic security that we always implemented before modern smart devices hit the streets.

Of course, there are other issues of even letting someone use your smartphone. I can illustrate one where someone (who will remain nameless!) complained to me that his friend’s fingerprint would open his phone. I headed to Google expecting a news story about a general failure of fingerprint security only to be interrupted when said person updated me – his friend had added his fingerprint when said person lent him their phone to make a call! However, even here password security on apps would still keep private conversations private. And yes, I have made that suggestion to the makers of the apps I use.