Smartphone authentication methods differ with age

Monday, 24 June, 2019

Smartphone authentication methods differ with age

Older smartphone users tend to rely more heavily on their phones’ auto lock feature than younger users, a new study has shown. They are also more likely to use PINs over fingerprints to unlock their phones.

The study, conducted by researchers at Google and the University of British Columbia (UBC), looked at the link between age and smartphone use.

UBC Professor Konstantin Beznosov, who supervised the study, said: “As researchers working to protect smartphones from unauthorised access, we need to first understand how users use their devices.

“By tracking actual users during their daily interactions with their device, we now have real-world insights that can be used to inform future smartphone designs.”

The study tracked 134 volunteers, ranging from 19 to 63 years old, for two months using a custom app on their Android phones. Data collected include: lock and unlock events, choice of auto or manual lock and whether the phone was locked or unlocked while in motion. The app also recorded the duration of user sessions.

According to the research, older users used their phones less frequently than younger people and were more likely to unlock phones when they were stationary — such as sitting at home or working at a desk.

The study also found that the number of user sessions decreased 25% with every 10-year age increase. This means that, while a 25-year-old might use their phone 20 times a day, a 35-year-old might only use it 15 times.

Additionally, the researchers found gender differences in authentication choices and phone use. Ageing women were more likely to manually lock their devices, compared to men.

Women also used their phone for longer than men, on average, with women in their 20s using their smartphones significantly longer than male peers.

However, the balance shifts with age, with men in their 50s logging longer usage sessions than women of the same age.

While the study didn’t look at the reasons for these behaviours, Beznosov said the findings could help smartphone companies design better products.

“Factors such as age should be considered when designing new smartphone authentication systems, and devices should allow users to pick the locking method that suits their needs and usage patterns,” he said.

He added that future research should look into other demographic factors and groups of participants and explore the factors involved in authentication decisions.

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