Mol­e­cules left on phones can re­veal in­ti­mate se­crets

Sci­en­tists can now build up a de­tailed pro­file of a phone’s owner sim­ply by look­ing at the mol­e­cules left be­hind

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SCIENCE - By SARAH KNAPTON

In­ti­mate de­tails of a per­son’s life­style, shop­ping habits and health can now be gleaned from the mol­e­cules they leave be­hind on ev­ery­day ob­jects such as smart­phones, pens or keys, sci­en­tists have proven.

US re­searchers took swabs from the mo­bile phones of 39 vol­un­teers and used a tech­nique called mass spec­trom­e­try to iden­tify in­di­vid­ual mol­e­cules and com­pounds on the case and screen.

They then com­pared them to the Global Nat­u­ral Prod­uct So­cial Molec­u­lar Net­work­ing data­base which records the chem­i­cal makeup of thou­sands of prod­ucts and drugs to re­veal a unique pro­file of each owner.

The team was able to tell the sex of the owner as well as a host of pri­vate in­for­ma­tion such as whether they were suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, skin in­flam­ma­tion or al­ler­gies, based on med­i­ca­tions which were present.

They could also tell whether a per­son pre­ferred wine or beer, what cos­met­ics they used, if they dyed their hair or were bald, and if they spent a lot of time out­doors.

If was even pos­si­ble to tell if they liked spicy food. The pro­fil­ing could be use­ful for iden­ti­fy­ing sus­pects or vic­tims in crim­i­nal cases, or even pro­fil­ing peo­ple at air­ports, say re­searchers.

“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,” said first au­thor Dr Amina Bous­li­mani, of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego School of Medicine.

“This is the kind of in­for­ma­tion that could help an in­ves­ti­ga­tor nar­row down the search for an ob­ject’s owner.”

Some of the med­i­ca­tions they de­tected on phones in­cluded an­ti­in­flam­ma­tory and anti-fun­gal skin creams, hair loss treat­ments, and eye drops.

Food mol­e­cules in­cluded citrus, caf­feine, herbs and spices. Sun­screen in­gre­di­ents and DEET mos­quito re­pel­lant were de­tected on phones even months after they had last been used by the phone own­ers, sug­gest­ing these ob­jects can pro-

We could tell if a per­son is likely fe­male, uses high-end cos­met­ics, ... drinks cof­fee, prefers beer over wine, likes spicy food, is be­ing treated for de­pres­sion ... .” Dr Amina Bous­li­mani, of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Diego School of Medicine

vide long-term life­style sketches.

“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,” said se­nior au­thor Dr Pi­eter Dor­ren­stein of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia.

“So we thought — what if we take ad­van­tage of left-be­hind skin chem­istry to tell us what kind of life­style this per­son has?

“All of the chem­i­cal traces on our bod­ies can trans­fer to ob­jects. So we re­al­ized we could prob­a­bly come up with a pro­file of a per­son’s life­style based on chemistries we can de­tect on ob­jects they fre­quently use.”

The re­search was pub­lished in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

De­tails of a per­son’s life­style can be gleaned from the mol­e­cules they leave be­hind on ob­jects such as smart­phones.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.