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April 01, 2010

Want your cell phone back?

I was walking out of my office yesterday evening when I spotted something on the sidewalk: a Blackberry.

I picked it up, got into the car with Mr. A, looked up the owner's name and scrolled through the contacts until I spotted one that said Home.

No answer. I left a message.

Meanwhile, new emails were coming in and as tempted as I was to glance at the messages in his inbox (and believe me, I was), I didn't. What I did do was Google him. Turns out he is a doctor. What if the people calling him were patients? Colleagues requiring emergency consults?

"My phone, the Blackberry I'm using now?" Mr. A began telling me. "I bought it from someone, and the previous owner left all her personal info in it. All of it."

"Like what did you find?"

"Let's see. She moved away from San Diego to Las Vegas. She dabbled in real estate but it didn't go too well, and her finances were in shambles. She's a dancer, a dance teacher actually. Let's see... she had a relationship with this guy, and they ended up getting married, but part of the deal was that he was getting a green card. She wasn't sure how she felt about that. He's Hungarian. At least, that's what his name looked like."

"This was all in her phone!?"

"Yeah, the emails. They went back for months."


The next morning (today) the phone had a missed call from the doctor's home. I called back. No answer.

"Hello, this is La Roxy again. I saw you called. I still have your phone. Don't worry, it's in good hands. But I'm wondering if you'd like it back soon?" I asked. "I'm around all afternoon if want to pick it up. You can reach me at 123-123-1234, or call your own number. Thanks."

I looked through the contacts to see if there's any other number I should try. Maybe one said Work, or Mom or something? Some names I recognized (the restaurants he eats at, local places he frequents, a pharmacy) and some were foreign (hospitals, employers in Europe, hotel perk programs he's a part of, many many people).

Moments later, it rang. It was his assistant, saying she'll pick it up tonight.

Now I've put the phone away. But I'm still thinking about how much you can tell about someone just by seeing who he or she calls. Let alone all the other mountains of info stored on the average smartphone. In my offline work, I'm very aware about the traces people leave and the things you can learn about them in unexpected means and places, but still. I was sobered.

Also tonight, I'm going to delete anything I wouldn't want a stranger to read, or post online, from my phone...
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