Your Phone Carries Your Personal Data in the Form of Bacteria

man with phone

Forget the NSA, as you’ve probably done so, but there’s a new form of phone data that can be gathered by anyone. It’s microbiome, or, ” the collection of microorganisms associated with the personal effects of an individual.”

Everyone knows that smartphones have more bacteria than toilet seats, but not everyone has investigated whether our phone-bacteria can identify us. Luckily, researchers at the University of Oregon have done the legwork. According to Meadow, Altrichter, and Green, there’s significant overlap between just plain ol’ phone bacteria and the bacteria that is specific to you or I. Findings show that 22% of bacteria on your fingers end up on your phone, compared to 17% that is shared by other phones. Moreover, men and women differed, in that women tend to have a stronger microbial connection to their phone, making their female owners more easy to identify.

What good can this type of information bring?

The implications for healthcare workers are more obvious. Early detection of nosocomial infection risk through biological phone monitoring could potentially improve prevention. It remains to be seen whether daily interactions, for instance with infected patients, can be detected on mobile phones, and whether that detection can be reliably used for infection control.

More importantly, even with its small sampling size, this study indicates that our phones’ surfaces can be a good indicator of who, when, and where we’ve been. It’s bio data that simply implicates our increasing physical connections to our phones.


Image credit: Worried! by Alon