How to Make Sure Your Data is Wiped from Old Electronics

You really don’t want to give away your personal data when you sell or give away your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Here’s a step-by-step guide to erasing that risk.


This post comes from Tucker Cummings of partner site DealNews.com.

Our gadgets are an extension of our most private thoughts and feelings, and the idea of someone being able to access our late-night texts, family photos, or old tax forms is just plain disturbing. That’s why it’s so crucial to properly erase all of the personal data from your device before you sell it, recycle it, or pass it along to a friend or family member.

But getting your device squeaky clean isn’t always as easy as it seems. A recent CNN report highlighted the ongoing issues Android users are having with resetting their devices. Phones made by Google, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung have all been known to retain personal data, even after being completely wiped.

Our guide will help you do the best possible job of deleting personal data from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. We’ll cover best practices for iOS, Android, and Windows mobile devices, as well as tips for MacBooks and Windows laptops.

How to erase personal data from your smartphone

iOS: To remove all settings and information from your iOS device, go to Settings> General> Reset> Erase All Content and Settings. Apple has a helpful guide on prepping your device for resale, which outlines steps for clearing your device either remotely or while it’s still in your custody. If you want to be extra cautious, you can also remove your iCloud association with the device. To do this, go to Settings> iCloud and select either “Delete Account” or “Sign Out.” The option you see will depend on what version of iOS you are running.

Android: Due to the fragmentation of the Android platform, there are lots of different ways to go about deleting your data. Each different “skin” of Android (the unique interface designed by the phone manufacturer) may have a slightly different menu for resetting your device.

For example, to do a factory reset on a new HTC One M9, you would go to Settings> Backup & Reset, and select “reset phone.” You’d also want to select the option for “Erase SD card,” if using one.

In contrast, the factory-reset procedure for a Samsung Galaxy S5 would have you swipe down and tap the gear icon, then swipe down again until you see the “User and Backup” section. From there, select “Factory data reset.”

When in doubt, check your owner’s manual or the manufacturer’s website for the recommended protocol for your specific device.

It’s probably a safer bet to wipe your phone personally, and not trust the clerk at your local carrier store with the task. It’s also smart to wipe your device using the suggested factory reset options outlined in your owner’s manual, but then follow up that “deep clean” with a Google search for “how to erase + [your specific device],” and follow that additional advice as well. This search will pull up additional advice on properly deleting data, as well as alert you to any known issues with incomplete deletion that other users have experienced. Ideally, the comments section of those posts will have some workarounds for any known issues.

That CNN report we mentioned earlier has some harsh words from the experts, with one expert stating that the best option for getting rid of the data on your phone is to just “smash it.” Every Android device tested by experts still retained a fraction of supposedly “wiped” data.

A kinder alternative to smashing? Pass on your old phone to someone you trust completely, like a friend or relative. If they do find some data left behind on the phone, you can trust that they won’t abuse it.

Windows phone: Windows phones may not have a huge share of the mobile marketplace, but if you do happen to use one of these devices, here’s what you need to know to complete a factory reset. Go to the app list and tap “Settings.” Hit “About,” and then select the option for “Reset your phone.”

Planning to recycle a really old, buggy device? If the device is unresponsive and you can’t reach the Settings menu, some Windows Phone models can be reset with a Contra-like secret code. Press and hold both the Volume Down and Power buttons until the phone buzzes. Immediately hold the Volume Down button until a “!” appears. Finally, press buttons in this order: Volume Up, Volume Down, Power, Volume Down. The device will restart. You should then be able to get into the phone and confirm that the data has been removed.

How to erase personal data from your tablet

iPad: A nice thing about being entrenched in the Apple ecosystem is that factory reset protocols are the same across all iOS devices. Refer to the iOS section in the smartphone part of this guide for more details on deletion. Clearing out your Safari history, data, and cookies is also a smart move for the cautious consumer.

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