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Secure Disposal of Mobile Devices

In this age of ever-changing technology, advances to mobile devices are occurring rapidly and devices soon become outdated. As you upgrade to the latest technology, it is important to be aware of how to properly dispose of mobile devices, including smartphones, smart watches, and tablets because of the personal data that is saved on the devices.

If not properly disposed of, the following types of data could fall into the wrong hands:

  • The location of your home, office, or other places you frequently visit
  • Location history based on cell tower usage and GPS coordinates
  • Contact information for family, friends and coworkers stored in your address book and other applications on the device
  • Call history (inbound, outbound and missed calls)
  • Text, voice and multimedia messages
  • Health related information such as age, diet and blood pressure
  • Chat history within apps, games and social media
  • Photos, videos, audio recordings and emails
  • Web browsing and search history, in addition to cookies and cached pages
  • Stored passwords and access to personal accounts
  • Information stored on the Cloud

Before giving up a mobile device, all sensitive data must be securely erased, which is called “wiping” the device. The information is not just erased; it’s overwritten so it cannot be recovered by anyone who has access to the device at a later time. And be sure your data is backed up before the device is wiped.

The “factory reset” function is the simplest way to securely wipe a mobile device. This function returns the device to the condition it was in when it was initially purchased. Initiating a factory reset on an iPhone or Android device can begin by following the steps below:

Apple iOS Devices: Settings> General>Reset>Erase All Content and Settings
Android Devices: Settings>Privacy>Factory Data Reset

*Please note, if you have questions about how to activate a factory reset, please check the owner’s manual for the device or the manufacturer’s website.

The SIM (Subscriber Identity Mobile) card must also be considered when wiping a cellular phone. The card retains account information that is tied to the user even after a factory reset is completed on the device. Speak with the service provider if you are keeping your phone number when switching from one device to the next. If reusing the SIM card from your old phone is not possible, shred or physically destroy it in some way to prevent it from being used by someone else. The same principle applies to SD (Secure Digital) cards often used for additional storage. The store where you purchased the mobile device can serve as a resource for any additional questions regarding disposal.

After wiping your devices, consider donating them before throwing them away. Many charitable organizations collect unwanted mobile devices for various purposes including giving them to low income families or selling the components as a fundraising source.