If you plan on getting a new smartphone, have you ever thought of what the next user of your old smartphone will find on it?
This assumes you’ll be selling or donating it, of course. Are you SURE those risqué photos are totally gone, or that your diary entries have been wiped clean? Experiments have been conducted in which someone buys used smartphones for the sole purpose of seeing how much personal data was left behind by the previous owner. I’ve done one, it wasn’t pretty. We found data on half the devices we bought in the second hand market.
It’s unbelievable how much data was retrieved in these experiments, including addresses, e-mails, passwords and text messages. A factory reset is not a totally reliable way to wipe clean your smartphone, either, as shown by the fact that some Android phones, despite the factory reset, still contained the previous user’s data.
Before taking the first step in getting rid of your mobile phone, back up all of its data. This can be done with a flash drive or automated PC service. For Android and iOS, use Apple’s iCloud or Google’s Auto Backup.
Next, wipe your phone squeaky clean. No, not with a rag and bleach, but “wipe” means destroy all the data using a specific method. This is NOT done by hitting the delete button or even reformatting the hard drive. What you don’t see isn’t necessarily not there.
A reformatted hard drive can still contain your data. To wipe an Android or iOS, use Blancco Mobile. To wipe a Mac computer, use the OS X Disk Utility or WipeDrive. For Windows PC use Active KillDisk. If you use a factory reset for a smartphone, remove any SIM cards too.
What if you can’t wipe your device? If you don’t wish to give it to someone else, then literally destroy it. Don’t just toss it in the trash. Take out the hard drive and mutilate it with a hammer. If you do want to sell it or donate it (get the receipt if you do donate it for an IRS return), realize that your data will still be on it. You never know who will end up getting their hands on the device.
If the idea of hammering at the hard drive isn’t your cup of tea, then find out from the recycling company who conducts the downstream recycling. You don’t want your device—containing your data—getting into a foreign landfill. The recycling company should be part of R2, or “responsible recycling,” or be part of e-Stewards certification programs.
Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to Hotspot Shield. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him discussing internet and wireless security on Good Morning America. Disclosures.