You’re ready to replace your aging smartphone with a newer model, but how do you plan on removing all the content that’s on your existing phone?
If you answered “factory reset,” here’s something you might not know: it doesn’t properly remove everything.
Insert “record scratch” sound effect here. It’s true. Restoring your phone to factory settings deletes the file system of your data, but it doesn’t actually overwrite the data.
Yep, a 14 year-old with easily-accessible software could potentially retrieve your photos, videos, documents, messages, passwords, and more.
To avoid your data falling into the wrong hands, the following are some ways to fully wipe your smartphone clean before you sell, donate or trade-in your device.
Encrypt the data
A factory reset will work, so long as you encrypt the phone first.
For Android users, if you existing phone runs Android 6.0 (Marshmallow) or newer, your data will already be encrypted by default. If you’ve got an older Android OS, you’ll want to add encryption as it will require someone to have a PIN or password to access your data.
In most cases, go to Settings > Security > Encrypt phone. It can take a while for this process to complete, so be sure to have your phone plugged into an AC outlet. On a Samsung Galaxy, you’ll go to Settings > Lock screen & security > Protect encrypted data.
You’ll have the option to encrypt the SD memory card as well, if your phone takes one and you have one installed, but you’ll likely remove this external storage anyway if you’re giving away your phone. Be sure to also sign out (and then delete) your accounts, such as Google and Samsung (on a Galaxy device), just to be safe.
Now go ahead and do the factory reset, which is usually found in the Backup & reset tab in your Settings.
For iPhones, iOS 5 or later also includes hardware encryption when you set a passcode. This makes it very difficult for anyone who tries to recover your data.
First, be sure to turn off all services, starting with Find My iPhone (Settings > iCloud > Find My iPhone), and then signing out of iCloud completely. For iOS 7 and newer, choose Delete Account. Sign out of other services, like iMessage, and Apple ID.
Now start the wipe process by going to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings.
Rather than use the operating system’s built-in tools, you can also download an app to handle the wipe for you. Examples include Symantec’s Norton Security, Pinellas Codeworks’ Secure Wipe, and ProtectStar’s iShredder 4, to name a few.