So not too long ago I was sitting in the living room and needed to quickly look something up on the internet. There weren't any of my devices (phone, tablet) near me, but my younger sister's phone was there. I decided to quickly use it to look something up. (And that's exactly what I did, I only opened an internet browser, looked something up and immediately put the phone away when I found the answer.)

Later that evening my sister saw that someone had used her phone to look something up. I told her that I quickly used it to look something up. My sister wasn't exactly happy that I used her phone to look something up and made that pretty clear to me. I personally don't see what exactly was wrong with it. It wasn't something weird that I was looking up and I didn't open any other apps except for the browser.

So I now know that my sister really doesn't like what I did, but in general is it OK to use someone's phone to quickly look something up?

Just for clarification my sister and I are on good terms and always have been. I don't think it matters, but just in case I live in The Netherlands.

  • 9
    What would you have done if she had had something embarrassing pop up as the opened page in the browser when you opened it?
    – user4788
    Nov 7 '17 at 3:45
  • Haha seems that standards are sooo different from one family to another! If I leave my phone without password in the same room as my brother, and he methodically goes through all my messages to see if he finds something of interest, I'll actually only blame myself and look for the next opportunity to do the same! Outside of the siblings context, don't touch other people's devices though.
    – Kerkyra
    Nov 7 '17 at 10:40

No, it's not ok to use someone's phone or device without asking.

Generally, it's not ok to use other people's belongings without permission, and I think it's often more so with their devices because there are potential privacy concerns. It would have been really easy for you to see something that you shouldn't have by simply opening the device revealing whatever website, conversation, or app that was left open.

Also... Even if something isn't rude generally speaking it becomes rude if you've been asked not to and do it and do it anyway. It shows disregard for the person who asked you not to do it...

  • 2
    I 100% agree with this answer, but I also think that this is exactly the reason why phones and tablets have locking functionality. If one wants to protect their privacy, using a locking code seems like the least they could do.
    – Cronax
    Nov 7 '17 at 14:23
  • 3
    @cronax dunno. After I read your comment, the first thing to cross my mind was "... because expecting the others to behave like respectful human beings is too much." You should lock your phone because ill-intentioned people won't respect boundaries, but it sounded a bit like victim-blaming reading your last line.
    – Mindwin
    Nov 7 '17 at 16:35
  • @Mindwin Agree, I think Cronax is totally correct, but he is answering "How do I keep my brother from using my phone without my permission?" rather than the question at hand which shifts the focus unnecessarily to the victim. Nov 7 '17 at 17:13
  • @called2voyage that is why I statted "the first thing I thought". Because unless you really take the time to read cronax's comment (plus language barrier), you might misunderstand him.
    – Mindwin
    Nov 8 '17 at 2:09
  • @Mindwin In general I agree that blaming the victim is a terrible thing to do, but when it comes to privacy I think the story becomes slightly different. We all have a responsibility to protect our own privacy. This means being skeptical of websites, emails and people asking us for information. It also means using (decently strong) passwords and locking screen codes to protect ourselves. None of that even remotely justifies breaching someone's privacy but it's important to be aware that there are people who will take any information you leave open to them.
    – Cronax
    Nov 9 '17 at 11:31

It's not OK unless the device is clearly used by the whole family and is considered "public", which this one clearly wasn't, hence why you called "sister's phone"

Phones can have some pretty private stuff on them, so a lot of people would be pretty upset if someone was using their phone without asking. (Now, why didn't she just have a passcode or the eye scan to prevent this sort of thing I don't know)

  • Another exception: if OP's sister uses others' devices without asking, even if the family doesn't have any specific shared devices.
    – Flater
    Nov 7 '17 at 10:43
  • 4
    While I understand that I may be making a bigger deal of an sideline comment, more than you intended, I disagree with your notion that "she should have a passcode or the eye scan". Burglary is a crime, even when the door isn't locked. You have a right to privacy regardless of how you lock your data (or don't). The only time where you give up that right is when you do so willingly (e.g. if she hands her phone to OP with the intent for him to use it), but even then the OP is still morally limited to reasonable use of the phone (i.e. not digging for secrets)
    – Flater
    Nov 7 '17 at 10:45
  • 2
    @Flater I disagree with your first comment - the sister doing something that's not ok doesn't make it ok for OP to do it back to her. But +1 to the second.
    – Em C
    Nov 7 '17 at 12:17
  • @EmC: It disables her initial complaint, or it at least renders it hypocritical. Note that this is not in any way permanent (if they agree that this is not okay, both can stop with the behavior from that point on).
    – Flater
    Nov 7 '17 at 13:01
  • 1
    I do use a passcode for my smartphone, but my brothers know it. Some people I study with also know the passcode, because it's simply a pain to always unlock it for them every 30 seconds if we use it to look something up. I still would expect them to ask me if they want to use my device though. And I make sure to keep my browser clean :P Nov 7 '17 at 21:32

This is a very big no-no. Many people see their devices as an extension of themselves. Of all your possessions, how many of them do you carry on your person nearly every minute of every day? To many, using someone's device without asking is like using their arm without asking — weird, inappropriate and a very good way of creeping people out, and establishing a reputation as someone who doesn't understand social boundaries.

Note that I'm coming from an American perspective, and while I'd imagine it's very similar in the Netherlands, it may a bit less extreme.

  • This is really the answer that identifies the crucial issue here: "Many people see their devices as an extension of themselves. (...) To many, using someone's device without asking is like using their arm without asking — weird, inappropriate and a very good way of creeping people out" __ absolutely right @TheEnvironmentalist, and I upvote! Nov 8 '17 at 0:50

No, it's not ok to use someone else's phone or device without asking.

Here's a way to think it through. If I told you I hacked into your bank account, took all your money, but then I immediately returned all of it and I promise I didn't do anything with it ... you'd still be freaked out, right?

So it's not about what you did. It's about a) how you didn't get permission b) how you could have done something bad and she wouldn't know it. That is an uncomfortable feeling, regardless of what you did or didn't do.


This is about as wrong as it gets.

Phones in particular can store a lot of private information, from nude selfies to messages from her boyfriend to the internet browsing history. (You do remember opening the browser, right?)

Also remember that no bad intention is needed for you to see something you shouldn't – phones show notifications automatically.

And to top it off, you accessed the device without her supervision, so she does not know how much potential time you had to search her stuff.

Never do that again. And don't swipe left/right in the photo gallery if you don't know what's there.


It's a privacy issue, and a property issue, at the same time. It's rude and creepy, therefore you must apologize.

Using someone else's property without asking can be perfectly fine (e.g. in case of some spouses (but not others)), rude (in case of some friends), or theft (in case of some strangers). If you don't want to be rude, you must ask.

Looking through someone's private things (phone, underwear drawer, etc) is beyond rude and goes into creepy territory. Even if you don't intend to look through their phone, there are 2 problems. First, they have no way to know that, especially so if you grabbed their phone without asking. Second, even if you don't intend to look, you will still see their open browser tabs, incoming messages, url suggestions, targeted ads, and much more.

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