What Should I Do With My Phone Before I Sell It?

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If you’re passing on an old Android handset to someone else, you may want to go further than using the default data wipe tools. According to a new report, they don’t effectively remove all of your personal data.

In a small study, security company Avast purchased 20 Android smartphones from eBay which had been supposedly cleared of personal data. But they managed to recover over 40,000 photos (including 250 nude selfies), 750 emails and text messages, 250 contacts, the identities of four phones’ previous owners, and one completed loan application. Eep.

The problem is that the default data wipe tools only cleans phones “at the application layer” — which means that data can still be recovered using drive-imaging programs (like Forensic Toolkit, which is free to download). Instead, anyone choosing to pass on their phone should completely wipe their handset. The best way to do that?

What Should I Do With My Phone Before I Sell It?

It’s surprising how many people sell their phones without doing anything to remove private data. Selling your phone to a stranger as-is gives that stranger access all your music, email, text messages and other data for a few hundred dollars. To make sure your private data’s safe, you’ll want to do a full wipe of your phone before you sell it off. This is actually very easy to do, on both the iPhone or Android. Here’s how:

How to Wipe an iPhone

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Wiping the iPhone is incredibly simple. Just head into the Settings app on your phone, go to the General section, and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the menu. You should see a button that says “Reset”. Tap that and hit the “Erase All Content and Settings” button. This will do a full wipe of all your media, settings and other data, so your phone is just like it was out of the box for your new buyer.

For what it’s worth, you can also plug it into iTunes and hit the “Restore” button. This is nice if you want to make one last backup before you wipe, since you’ll have to be in iTunes anyway. Either method should work fine. Note that both methods will also un-jailbreak your phone, if it was jailbroken.

How to Wipe an Android Phone

Android phones are easy to wipe, but require a few more button taps. Unlike the iPhone, your Android phone has multiple hard drives inside it. It has its internal memory, where most of your apps and system settings are stored, and your SD card, where your music, pictures, and some app settings are stored. Some phones, like the Droid Incredible, even have two SD cards. So, when wiping, you want to make sure you get everything.

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If your SD card came with your phone, I’d recommend wiping it and selling it with the phone. If you bought your SD card separately, though, you might as well keep it for yourself and use it on your next phone (unless you want to sell it with your phone and bring up the price a bit). If you’re keeping it, you don’t need to wipe it. However, if your phone did come with an SD card, whether it’s the one you’re using right now or not, it’s a good idea to pop it in, wipe it, and sell it with the phone.

To wipe your phone, head into Settings > SD & Phone Storage. First, hit the “Unmount SD Card” option. When it finishes unmounting the card, you’ll see the “Format SD Card” button will no longer be greyed out. Click on that to wipe your SD card. When that’s done, hit the “Factory Data Reset” button. This will erase all your other data, and return your phone to what it was like when you bought it. If you have a Droid Incredible or other two-SD-card phone, you should have a third option to wipe that internal storage, which you’ll also want to do.

Note that if you have a rooted phone, this process will not remove root, and it won’t remove any custom ROMs you’re running. To do that, you’ll need to use a program like Motorola’s RSD Lite (if you have a Motorola phone) to fully wipe your phone. You may need a different program depending on your manufacturer. That said, you could also sell your phone as rooted — some people prefer to buy their phone pre-rooted, and there are online sellers that support selling rooted and ROMed phones.

That’s it! It’s very simple to prepare your phone for sale, and you don’t need to do that much to keep your data safe. Enjoy your new phone!

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Posted on July 11, 2014, in How-To, Smartphones, Support. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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