Your smartphone is revealing far more about your personal life than you realise, and we don’t mean the contents.
A new study has revealed that scientists can create an accurate picture of your lifestyle based only on the molecules found on your phone’s touchscreen.
This sketch includes what you eat, the toiletries you use, how healthy you are, what drugs you are taking, and where you’ve visited recently. Creepy.
Every time humans come into contact with an object we leave behind trace chemicals, molecules and microbes on it. And our smartphones are no different.
Especially given the long periods of time we spend handling them every day.
Now scientists are using this skin chemistry to develop potential ways of profiling criminals, screening at airports, or for doctors to check that their patients are taking their medication correctly.
Lead author Pieter Dorrestein said the technique being developed will be especially useful in criminal cases where DNA trace is not necessarily available: “You can imagine a scenario where a crime scene investigator comes across a personal object - like a phone, pen or key - without fingerprints or DNA, or with prints or DNA not found in the database. They would have nothing to go on to determine who that belongs to.”
But this new technique only requires scientists to have possession of the item in question.
For the study, volunteers were required to hand over their mobile phones, which were swabbed in four places. Then using a technique called mass spectrometry the molecules were cross-referenced with a database of structures to develop a “read-out” from each phone.
Some of the medications they detected on phones during the trials included anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal skin creams, hair loss treatments, anti-depressants and eye drops. Food molecules included citrus, caffeine, herbs and spices.
Sunscreen and DEET mosquito repellant were also detected months after the owners had used these products, suggesting they can provide long-term composite lifestyle sketches too.
You might want to consider wearing gloves.