Recycling/Upgrading Your Phone: Data to Remove

Whether you are getting your old mobile recycled (which is highly recommended), returning it to your provider, passing it onto a friend, or privately selling it, do make sure that you have removed all your personal data, before it leaves your hands.

Our phones are so sophisticated now that we take for granted how much we use them in our daily lives and they store lots of information about ourselves, so if the wrong people get hold of them, it can leave us vulnerable to theft or fraud.

Internet browsing history

Maybe you're not too bothered about someone being able to see that you were looking up the Daily Mail's Sidebar of Shame on your mobile, but what about the sites that you've entered a password into to use?  Forums, social networks, newsletters - there are lots of times when we're asked to enter private details to access content, or become members.  These passwords can be looked up by revisiting the pages you have been too (most mobile sites "remember" your passwords for you so you don't have the pain of entering them each time you visit).  It's an easy step from here to go into the user admin and copy or change the password and look up all the personal information being held.

 Many of us use the same password across a number of sites, so a malicious user could potentially use this information to get into your email (where there is lots of useful private data that can be taken) - most dangerously, to find credit card numbers and records of sites where you have already provided payment details for future payments.

As our emails are so often used as our default online identification card, it's worth removing all your emails from your mobile. The same applies to Facebook and Twitter.

Delete your interest history!


Many of us use our mobiles as our main digital cameras now and will have hundreds of snaps saved.  The easiest way to remove them from your phone, is to copy them all across with a USB cable to a computer - just copy the whole folder, otherwise later on you might regret deleting special memories that seemed rather boring when you selectively chose what to save.

Apps and App store

Most of us have a single log in to the app store with a password to enter. You will have to go to the main settings on your mobile to delete the link between the app store and your phone.

If you use any personal banking apps, or apps from retailers that allow you to purchase directly from them (e.g. places where you've saved your credit card details), also delete these apps to be on the safe side.

Your IMEI number

You need to make a note of this as it is the unique number associated with your phone.  If your phone is being recycled you will have to provide this number, but it's worth keeping a record of it in any case, along with the date that you gave your phone away.  To get the IMEI number, look at the casing under the battery, or type *#06# and it will appear on the screen.

Remove your saved contacts

This is obvious, but it's worth spending some time manually checking that you have deleted all this information (after you've copied it over to the new phone obviously!).

Annoyingly most phones have the default setting to save contacts to the phone memory, rather than the SIM card.  In some cases, you might have to log into an external account (such as Microsoft Live) to manage this information.

Delete everything!

Even if you have followed these steps, you've not made your data safe. The only way to be 100% sure that all your data has been deleted is follow the permanent data deleting instructions for your handset.  Basically what you need to do is return the phone to its factory settings, the state it was in when it was sent to you.

Doing this kind of "hard reset" is essential if your phone is being passed on to anyone else - otherwise you cannot be guaranteed that some data isn't sitting in some hidden temporary files within the phone.

You'll need to check the instruction manual (or go to the manufacturer's official website) for the specific ways to do this for your handset, as all models are different.

This step isn't reversible! So, only do this when you are completely happy that you are "done and dusted" with the old phone.

Here are some examples of the steps to take with some popular models (do consult the manufacturer for the latest advice) -

·         iPhone 4S:  Settings > General > Reset > Erase all content and settings

·         HTC One S: Settings > Storage > Factory Data Reset > Reset phone > Erase Everything

·         Nokia Lumia 800: Settings > About > Reset Your Phone

·         Blackberry Bold: Options > Security > Security Wipe

Get rid of the old SIM

Unless you are putting the old SIM into the new phone (which is very rare now) the old SIM card is useless to you (or will be within around 24 hour's time).  To be completely on the safe side, cut up the SIM card so that it cannot be used by any potential fraudster to access your data.

If you're getting your mobile recycled (great for the environment and you earn some extra cash too!) you can send it along to the recycling company after following these steps, knowing that all your personal data is completely protected.

Jenny Simpson is a tech writer for (Envirophone) who’d be happy to assist if you’re looking to sell your phone.