What Chemicals on Your Smartphone Reveal About You

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Researchers have devised a new method of forensic investigation that involves using chemical traces on the surface of your smartphone to form a unique profile about you.

The molecules found on your device could, for instance, reveal everything from the type of hygiene and beauty products you use to clues about your diet, the medications you take, even places you have been.

"Our results show that phones' chemistries reflect a personalized lifestyle profile," the researchers wrote in a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Such information could help a criminal investigator narrowing down the owner of an object found at a crime scene, such as a suspect or missing person."

From a simple swab of a phone, investigators could glean all this information using highly sensitive "mass spectrometry and informatics approaches."

The researchers from the US and Germany swabbed the mobile phones and hands of 39 people, and after analyzing the samples, found that each person had a unique set of chemicals on their hands — kind of like a signature that differentiated them from one another. Moreover, the molecular patterns on the phones matched the chemistries of the corresponding hands, allowing the researchers to determine which handset belonged to which person.

"You can narrow down male versus female; if you then figure out they use sunscreen then you pick out the [people] that tend to be outdoorsy — so all these little clues can sort of narrow down the search space of candidate people for an investigator," Pieter Dorrestein, co-author of the research from the University of California, San Diego told The Guardian.

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