Our phones are repositories of so much personal and sensitive information, including text message logs, account names and numbers and passwords, email archives, and voice mail caches. You use your phone to access your online banking; to purchase items and transfer money; to send and receive sensitive emails; to reset passwords and authenticate logins; to converse with friends, relatives, coworkers, doctors, financial advisors, and lawyers.
In short, they’re full of the data an identity theft or other unsavory person would love to gain access to. So you might be understandably hesitant about passing on your phone to a recycler, concerned that some of your private information might fall into the wrong hands. And indeed, the tech recycling companies we link to here do not have any responsibility for protecting information potentially left on devices you send to them. So you should take care to wipe all data from your phones or tablet before slipping it into a Freepost envelope and profiting.
Luckily, it’s easy to purge your data from a device you’re recycling. If you follow these steps, you should have no worries about selling your device on, safely earning cash for your unused gadget, and keeping it out of a landfill.
Before You Wipe Your Phone
- Back up all your data: Avoid the dreaded “new phone, who dis?” (unless you’re trying to leave some friend behind…) by backing up all the data stored on your phone, especially the contacts, and transferring it to your new model.
- Log out: of all sites and apps (including social media, banking apps, email) and wipe data from web browsers and apps, if possible.
- Revoke access and authorization: for the phone on sites like Google and Facebook. For Facebook, go to Settings > Security and Login, to see a list of places you are currently logged in (hit log-off for any on your phone) and a list of authorized devices, from which you should remove the phone. For Google, to go My Account > Device activity & security events to see a list of devices with active sessions and/or authorization. You can remotely terminate sessions on your phone and revoke authorization for the phone.
- Remove your SIM card: SIM cards store phone numbers, contacts, and old text messages-all potentially sensitive information. They’re generally located under the battery cover or in a specific SIM card slot: your phone’s instruction manual will tell you where and if you don’t have access to that, the manufacturer’s website, or a simple Google search, can guide you. The SIM card looks like a small computer chip. Unless you’re switching providers, you’ll need it for your new phone. But if you are disposing of the SIM card, don’t simply throw it into the bin. Your personal data could then be recoverable by anyone who stumbles across that card and slips it into a phone. You’ll need to destroy it to prevent it from being used by anyone else. To properly do this, shred the SIM card with scissors, ensuring you’re cutting through the bronze foil area, where all the data is stored. Throw the pieces in the bin.
- Remove your micro SD card: many smartphones and tablets also store data, including photos, videos, and music, on micro SD cards. They’re generally located in specific micro SD hatches; an instruction manual should direct you if you can’t find it. Again, if you wish to throw it away after you’ve backed up the data on it, you should cut it up first.
- Write down: your phone’s serial number the identification provided by the manufacturer) and IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number, your phone’s unique 15-digit identification code. You can find out your IMEI number by punching *06# into the phone’s dial pad. You’ll need this information if you later suspect data has been stolen from your ecycled phone.
So your handset won’t turn on and it’s useless to you. You can still get some cash out of the device from recyclers, selling it as broken or faulty, but you’ll still want to try to wipe all your data before turning that glorified paperweight into cash.
Android: If you can’t perform a factory reset the normal way, you can boot the phone into recovery mode and do a hard reset that way. To do this, first, make sure the device is shut down completely. You’ll then need to press and hold a combination of keys to reboot the device in recovery mode. The exact keys will vary depending on the phone’s manufacturer so you should consult an instruction manual or perform a simple Google search for the combination for your specific phone. But common combinations are Power and Home, Power and Volume Up, and Power and Volume Down. When the device turns on-it will show you an image of the Android robot on its back-you can release the buttons. Toggle up and down through the options with the volume keys to get to Recovery Mode, select this and then restart the phone by pressing the Power-you’ll soon see a red caution triangle above the fallen Android. Hold down the Power button again while pressing Volume Up to access the recovery mode menu. Using the Volume keys toggle to Wipe data/factory reset and select using the Power button. You can then select Yes – Erase all Data, again using the volume and power button, and your phone will restart, now with all your data wiped, or at least inaccessible by most means.
If you’ve managed to resurrect the phone for normal use via the reset, it might be worth encrypting it and performing another wipe, for extra peace of mind.
iOS: If your phone won’t boot, Apple suggests you use recovery mode, where you should be able to perform a factory reset. To do this you’ll need to turn off your device: if it’s not responding, you can force shut it down by simultaneously pressing the power and home buttons for a few seconds. Connect your device to a laptop that has iTunes open, via a USB. When it’s connected, press and hold the home button until the “Connect to iTunes” screen appears. When this appears you can release the home button. iTunes will tell you it’s detected a device in recovery mode. If you click Restore or OK on your computer, iTunes will restore the operating system to the phone. This is effectively performing a factory reset. You’ll be able to access all your data again, if you want to recover it, by logging into your Apple and iCloud accounts. You’ll have to remember to log out of these and perform a new factory reset if you do this, however.
If your phone is properly bricked and won’t reboot into recovery mode, you’re likely to be able to wipe data from it and you may not even be able to sell it at all, or only for a small fee for its parts. The good news is that a thief will properly be unable to turn it on or extract anything from it either. You’ll have to decide if the £10 you get for a defunct phone is worth the (small) risk of your data being siphoned off if it’s ever resurrected by a very determined and technologically adept hacker.