Taxis Hailed As 'Black Hole' For Lost Cell Phones And PDAs, As Confidential Data Gets Taken For A Ride

January 30, 2005 A global survey of 900 taxi drivers shows thousands of Mobile Phones, PDAs/Pocket PCs and Laptops are forgotten in taxis every day. Though the survey was commissioned by a company with a vested interest in alerting users to the importance of mobile device security, the results are no less concerning, given that most people have confidential data readily available to an unscrupulous finder, at least some of which could be devastating to the career and financial well-being of the person losing the phone.

The company behind the survey is Pointsec, a company selling solutions for automatic data encryption that ensures protection at the most vulnerable point where sensitive enterprise data is stored - on mobile devices - and claims the largest installed base in the world.

In the last six months alone, the nine-nation survey of leading taxi companies in Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, and the U.S. indicated tens of thousands of digital devices were left behind inadvertently.

The U.S. company polled in the survey, a major Chicago cab company, reported the highest rate of losses per taxi of all firms studied for PDAs/Pocket PCs (0.86 per cab), and second in both mobile phones (3.42 per cab) and laptops (0.18 per cab).

Based on the large size of the Chicago company's fleet, the statistics indicate a staggering 85,619 mobile phones, 21,460 PDAs/Pocket PCs, and 4,425 laptops left in the firm's licensed cabs during the six months covered in the study. Only London exceeded Chicago in the rate of PCs lost per cab (0.21), while Copenhagen was tops in mobile phones (7.19 per cab).

As mobile devices become more plentiful and sophisticated and data storage capacities support increasing amounts of data, the statistics point to the need for vigilance in data protection.

The study was conducted among licensed taxi drivers to gauge the frequency and ease with which small mobile devices are lost in transit. Pointsec first commissioned the study four years ago in London; this year's results indicated a significant worsening in the problem, with 71% more laptops and 350% more Pocket PCs/PDAs being left behind in that city than in 2001.

Pointsec believes that the problem will inevitably lead to serious penalties for forgetful people, warning that legislation is slowly becoming more specific in this arena, and "there is a good chance we will soon see legal action taken against people and organizations who do not protect information stored on mobile devices, much of which is about private individuals."

The comprehensive study was carried out in nine major cities around the world among 900 licensed taxi drivers. Cabbies in London, Helsinki, Oslo, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Chicago and Sydney were sampled; in each city, written surveys were administered by supervisors to drivers during their normal shifts.

Many Happy Returns Not all results of the research were negative, however.

Globally, an average of 80% of all passengers were reunited with their mobile phones and 96% with their Pocket PCs/PDAs and laptops-with the cab drivers themselves, in almost all cases, tracking down the owners.

Worst on the list was Sydney, Australia, where only 46% of Down Under passengers bothered to reclaim their mobiles. Only 18% were ever reunited with their laptops.

Viagra, Cats, and a Prosthetic Leg

When asked what was the strangest item left in their taxis, drivers around the world had no shortage of bizarre replies. Forgotten condoms seemed to top the list; however pets, undergarments, knives, and luggage were also commonplace.

UK taxi drivers admitted to finding a harp, a throne, 100,000 pounds Sterling in diamonds, 37 milk bottles, and a baby. Among the possessions found in Chicago cabs were a violin case, a cat, prescription Viagra, a treasure bond worth $2.5 million, and a prosthetic leg.

In Munich, one taxi driver was shocked when he turned around to find his passenger dead.

Perhaps the best story came from a female London cab driver who discovered her fare, British celebrity socialite Jemima Khan, had left her iPod, mobile phone, and purse in the woman's taxi. When the cabbie got the call to return the items to Khan's friend, she was delighted to discover the friend was actor Hugh Grant.

Grant gave the driver his autograph as a thank you.

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