What can your phone say about you?

10 April 2017

Our phones have become an essential part of our lives – and that means that every day, we leave a data trail behind us. From emails and social media messages, to pictures and videos, we leave a digital footprint wherever we go.

Mostly, this is entirely intentional; it’s rare to find someone who owns a phone that doesn’t have any saved messages and images. But when something goes wrong, information is everything – which is why, in the world of forensic investigations, mobile data can be a valuable goldmine.

‘Mobile forensics’ is becoming an important part of the work of our Forensics Data and Analytics teams – we are increasingly asked to collect and analyse mobile data during investigations. It’s possible to collect an amazing array of information from the average smartphone, from SMS messages and emails, to calendar events, internet history and bookmarks and even your social media history. It’s even possible to recreate deleted messages, social media, pictures and documents from a phone.

The ability to track the GPS location of the owner or user of a phone – through location services and by monitoring how adverts are triggered depending on your location – has become a controversial topic. There have been several recently publicised examples of data being harvested from visitors to a location, covertly, through their mobiles phones to analyse footfall, behaviour, or traffic flow. There have been situations where GPS tracking helped to prove if a person is within a certain proximity to a predetermined location.  

This sort of tracking of mobile data can have important uses though – after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, the movement of the population was tracked through their phones so help could be delivered more quickly to exactly where it was needed.

We are living in the digital age, with everything that that entails. And that means forensics has moved on as well, and the analysis of mobile data has become an essential part of investigations. Take care of that small piece of technology in your pocket – it says a lot about you.

Visit the Science Museum’s ‘Our Lives in Data’ exhibition to uncover more of the diverse ways our data is being collected, analysed and used every day.

 

Comments

Very insightful - as mobiles are ever more central to their owners' daily lives, mobile forensics will become an increasingly vital way to understand people's behaviour. Glad to see PwC at the front of this!

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