Every once in a while, you may find yourself using someone else’s phone. It’s a fraught situation with plenty of potential for awkwardness. That’s because we’re all pretty attached to our smartphones, and because we all store plenty of personal and potentially embarrassing information on our devices. We also aren’t really used to letting other people look through our phones, and most of us aren’t sure exactly what etiquette rules to follow.
Don’t make the situation any more awkward than it needs to be. Pay attention to the following rules on what you shouldn’t do when somebody hands you their phone. If you follow our advice, you’ll not only learn some important etiquette for a weird situation, but you’ll also minimize your chances of making things awkward between you and your smartphone-lending friend.
1. Don’t pick it up without asking
Let’s start with the basics. You should never, ever use somebody else’s phone without asking, even if it’s just sitting on the table. And even if you already know that they don’t use a password to protect it. You should only use someone else’s phone if they’ve told you that it’s OK. Remember, a smartphone holds a lot of personal information and correspondence. If you want somebody to trust you with their device, it probably helps to ask their permission before picking it up.
2. Don’t try to guess the passcode
If you’ve asked someone whether you can use their phone and they’ve said yes, chances are good that they’ll unlock it for you. If they don’t and their phone is password-protected, you should always ask them to unlock it for you. They’ll almost certainly oblige. What you shouldn’t do is try to guess the passcode yourself. At best, you’ll figure it out and seriously creep out your friend. At worst, you’ll try enough wrong passwords that the phone temporarily locks. Now it’s not useful to its owner or to you.
3. Don’t scroll through their photos
Another basic: If someone hands you their phone to look at a specific photo or video, you should never scroll through the rest of their photos. Under no circumstances will the phone’s owner be happy to see you scrolling through their camera roll (even if there isn’t anything private saved there). Be respectful of the personal nature of people’s photos and hand the phone back once you’ve looked at the photo they wanted you to see in the first place. Don’t be nosy — or you risk seeing something that you can’t unsee.
4. Don’t walk away with their phone
Somebody who’s lending you their phone probably trusts you. But don’t make things uncomfortable by walking away with their phone. Whether you’re at a party in an expansive loft or hanging out at a crowded restaurant, make sure that you (and the phone) stay where the phone’s owner can easily see you. Even if you borrowed the phone to make a quick call, make sure that you stay relatively close to the person lending you the phone.
5. Don’t change the music
We all use our phones to play music in our cars or on our home audio systems. So if you borrow a phone that’s paired to a speaker, don’t take the opportunity to surreptitiously change the music. It’s rude and unnecessary. The only exception is if your friend is handing over their phone specifically so that you can put on that new album you just discovered or pick a mellower track than what’s playing.
6. Don’t read their texts
Whatever the reason that you’re borrowing your friend’s phone, it’s almost certainly not to snoop on their texts. So steer clear of all messaging apps when they hand over their phone. The conversations your friend has been having with their buddies or their mom or their significant other are none of your business. So don’t intrude on their privacy just because you’re curious or bored or don’t have a great sense of respect for other people’s privacy.
7. Don’t snoop around in their apps
Apps might seem like a more harmless thing to take a look at when you’re scrolling through somebody else’s phone. But it’s still an intrusion on your friend’s privacy and still has the potential to reveal something embarrassing. Maybe your friend doesn’t want you to see that they use multiple dating apps, or that they Instacarted Doritos and Snickers bars at 3 a.m. last Saturday. Don’t try to figure out what all their apps are, or go into folders of apps to see what’s there.
8. Don’t answer a call or a message
In case you haven’t yet caught on, the primary rule of using somebody else’s phone is to get in and get out, and only use the functionality that they’ve given you their permission to use. So you should never, ever answer an incoming call or message for your friend. Even if you know the person calling or texting. Just don’t do it. Ever.
9. Don’t forget to tell whoever you’re calling that this phone isn’t yours
If you’re borrowing a friend’s phone to make a call, don’t forget to tell the person on the other end of the call that this isn’t your phone and that you don’t normally have access to it. Most of your friends are probably fine with letting you make a quick call on their phone. But not if you’re calling somebody who’s going to repeatedly call and text your friend’s number, hoping to get in touch with you.
10. Don’t change settings or download apps
Unless your friend has handed over their phone expressly for you to fix that weird glitch it’s been having, or to download the exciting new app that you’ve been talking about, don’t do anything to modify a borrowed phone. Don’t go into the settings and change things that bother you. Don’t download a social media app just so that you can check your account. (Where’s your phone, anyway?) And don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want somebody to do with your phone.
11. Don’t post anything to social media
People used to think it was funny to post to other people’s Facebook accounts when they were left logged in on a computer. But most people have gotten over the joke by now, and few think it’s as funny as you do. Don’t post something dumb to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat just because you have access to somebody’s phone. They might think it’s funny — but they also might be mad that you used their social media account without asking permission. And if they’re connected to co-workers on those social accounts, be ready for some completely justified anger.
12. Don’t drop or break the phone
Nobody means to drop a phone. But you really, really don’t want to drop a phone that doesn’t belong to you. Hold and carry a borrowed phone carefully. Don’t wave it around or lean over a balcony while holding it. Don’t set it down too close to your drink. And don’t take it into the bathroom with you. Everybody knows that accidents happen, but you really don’t want to be the person who broke somebody else’s phone.