Over the course of two weeks, Katie Notopolous, a Buzzfeed reporter for Buzzfeed’s tech vertical, FWD, used software called TeenSafe to monitor the iPhone activity of a 21-year-old sorority sister named Taylor Prewitt.
She got permission from Prewitt. Prior to conducting this experiment, Notopolous had never met Prewitt.
“What story could I piece together about their life based just on a text message trail?” Notopolous wrote for Buzzfeed. “Would I actually be able to ‘know’ a person just from their phone?”
At the end of the experiment, Notopolous made a list of the things she learned about Prewitt just by monitoring her phone:
• Her dad’s a lawyer.
• She knows how to have a good time with her friends and was in a sorority.
• She’s definitely a 21-year-old American girl.
• She’s got a new boyfriend and it’s going well.
• She’s sweet, but a pushover.
• She’s open-minded with her boyfriend.
• She has a little brother in college who asks her to buy him beer occasionally.
Prewitt, essentially trusted Notopolous with the most personal parts of her life. She even let Notopolous snoop around her iCloud, which held months’ worth of texts and data.
This is what Prewitt’s TeenSafe dashboard looked like:
After initially downloading about six months worth of texts and web history, I started poking through. I’d read through months of her conversations with one person, then move onto the next, which made for a sort of Rashomoneffect of piecing together what Taylor’s life is like.
But despite the piecemeal way I navigated her most intimate correspondence and data trail, there was no real detective work necessary, here. Taylor’s iCloud formed a clear and comprehensive portrait of Taylor’s life. While maybe not surprising, it was another reminder to me just how much information is sitting in the cloud under varying levels of security. Recent celebrity hacks have exposed a lot of personal photos to the general public, but the reality is there’s far more intimate data resting in the cloud, namely a near-complete snapshot of one’s life.
Notopolous learned about the inner workings of the 21-year-old’s friendships, relationships, party habits, and certainly, private habits, just by watching her phone, rather than talking to Prewitt.