Every time you swipe your phone, you are leaving an important piece of you behind. Researchers of the University of California, San Diego conducted a trace analysis of the chemicals of 39 phones surrendered by volunteers. Based on their findings, scientists tried to create a profile detailing the behavior and the possible identity of the user.
Amina Bouslimani, the lead researcher, noted that on average, a person spends five hours on a mobile device. This is one reason why phones are similar to a person's skin since the "phone also reflect who you are and what you do." Each time your fingers touch your screen, you can leave chemical traces that could expose a lot about you.
The UCSD team used cotton swabs to wipe off the surface of the phone and the right hand of the phone's owner. The chemical analysis of the two samples was compared to see if they match. Pieter Dorrestein, the study's coauthor, said that a positive match for the chemical composition between the two swabs suggests that the molecules from the user's hand transferred to the surface of the phone.
The researchers tried to identify as many molecules as possible by comparing the data swab results to a database profiling compounds that are present in caffeine, medicine, and in spices. Based on the results of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the molecules found on the device can help determine a person's beauty and hygiene products, food choices, health condition and even the place where that person has been.
Bouslimani adds that they could identify whether the user "is likely female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine and likes spicy food."
Analyzing molecules in criminal profiling is not a recent discovery. The police make use of this technology to look for traces of narcotics and explosives. According to a report from Science News for Students, Dorrenstein stated that he does not know of any case where the Police used molecular analysis to track anyone whose mobile phone was left at the crime scene. He is hopeful, however, that detectives would be able to do this in the future.