Researchers found that by analyzing the germs and other materials on a person’s smartphone, they can get a picture of what the owner’s lifestyle is like, including places a person has been to, their diet, medications taken, hygiene habits, beauty products used, and even their overall state of health.
Having access to such information could be useful for clinical trials, airport screening, environmental exposure studies, and monitoring patients’ adherence to prescribed medications.
Senior author Pieter Dorrestein explained, “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. So we thought — what if we take advantage of left-behind skin chemistry to tell us what kind of lifestyle this person has?”
The researchers took swabs of 39 smartphones owned by healthy individuals.
“By analyzing the molecules they’ve left behind on their phones, we could tell if a person is likely female, uses high-end cosmetics, dyes her hair, drinks coffee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is being treated for depression, wears sunscreen and bug spray — and therefore likely spends a lot of time outdoors — all kinds of things,” added first author Amina Bouslimani.
Although the study uncovered that smartphone germs could reveal some aspects of the owner’s lifestyle, the results certainly are not as accurate as a fingerprint would be.
The findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.