It’s not surprising: a lot of information about our lives can be found inside our smartphones: call histories, SMS messages, emails, GPS locations, photos and videos. But a lot of information about our lives can also be found on the outside of our smartphones. According to a scientific study published this month by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, it’s possible to determine information on the owner of a smartphone by simply analyzing the oily layer left on the screen by daily usage.
We are not as clean and discreet as we would like to think. Science shows that our smartphones give us away. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have been able to determine the molecular identity of an individual through their smartphone.
Helping the police and the justice system
This study originated from the researcher’s desire to help the forensic police. DNA and fingerprints recovered from objects are only useful when the individual that they belong to is already in police records. The researchers wanted to develop a new method of analysis to create a profile, using objects that the individual has touched. So, by closely studying an object that would have been recovered from a crime scene and, more specifically, the chemical traces left by the owner on the object, it was possible to obtain useful information on their lifestyle, their medical history, their clothing, their habits and even their work schedule.
We leave many molecules on our smartphones.
In order to put their theory into practice, the researchers gathered smartphones of 39 test candidates who wanted to participate in the study. The whole idea of a smartphone is based on us having our phones in constant contact with our hands, our face, our mouths and our hair. Using cotton swabs, the researchers gathered chemical samples of the traces left on the devices, and also the traces on the palm of the user’s right hand.
Thanks to skin and sweat molecules left on our phones, the researchers were able to determine that candidate nine had taken anti-inflammatory medication for their skin, candidate two was doing a treatment for hair growth, candidate 10 used eye drops, candidate 16 took medication for thrush, candidate 32 ate citrus fruits and candidate 21 took antidepressants.
The scientists even determined that a woman had recently been camping.
Even better than that, the scientists determined that a woman had been camping recently. How? They found traces of sun cream and anti-mosquito spray on her device. Our smartphones are practically like modern medical records!
Do you regularly clean your smartphone with a cloth? How often do you clean your phone?