03/09/2012 08:52 EST | Updated 05/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Lost Cellphone Study Deems Ottawa Most Honest

A new North American study found Ottawa was the most honest city when it came to returning lost cellphones.

U.S.-based security software firm Symantec Corp. organized and funded the study where it placed 10 lost smartphones in five different cities.

Ottawa was the only Canadian city, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and New York City were the others.

Ottawa-based security consultant Scott Wright was contracted out to place the cellphones in all cities and track the statistics. He dropped them in office elevators, food courts, transit stops and even phone booths.

Wright said the company put 12 different apps on the phones, including four business, four personal and four "neutral" apps.

The goal was to show the importance of protecting personal information on cellphones with a password.

"We really just wanted to see what people would do with them. We weren't trying to collect personal information of any type, just to see what type of data they were accessing," Wright told the CBC's Ottawa Morning.

Ottawa residents returned 70 per cent of phones

In Ottawa, seven of the 10 phones were returned to Wright. The other three, he said, can't be tracked by the company and likely will never be found.

The worst city was New York, where only three phones were returned.

Wright said the study found more than 80 per cent of people across the five cities "snooped" for corporate or personal information. More than 90 per cent accessed some kind of information.

"Even if somebody offers to return your lost cellphone, it doesn't mean they haven't looked at much of your corporate and personal sensitive information," Wright said.

He added passwords should be as long as possible because some people use creative techniques to decode the security password.

"It's actually possible somebody might be able to tilt [the phone] on an angle and look at the reflection off it to see what were the most commonly pressed areas of the keyboard. They could actually try to guess your pin from that."

Wright said the best plan for smartphone users is to use a sticker with a reward and contact number in case the phone is lost. You can also program a message in the phone if it is lost, he said.