How to...wipe your smartphone

Call us paranoid, but we’re not leaving anything to chance

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

Did you find a brand new smartphone under the CHristmas tree yesterday? If so, you might be thinking of passing on your old device to someone else, whether it is a family member, charity, selling it on or simply sending it for recycling.

But what should you do before handing your phone over? We use our phones for lots of things these days, from online banking to working, and there is plenty of revealing information on the devices if you know where to look.

One caveat: nothing is 100 per cent guaranteed. To make sure there is zero chance of ever recovering even a tiny portion of information that is contained on your smartphone, you would be better off smashing the phone into tiny pieces, and then destroying those pieces, or disposing of them in different locations to make sure it can never be pieced together again. But that’s a waste of a good smartphone for the most part, and that’s before we get into the benefits of recycling or donating your handset to a worthy cause.

So how can you remove your sensitive information from your smartphone before you dispose of it?

iOS:

If you are using iOS 11 or iOS 10, there is one very important step you should take before resetting your phone: sign out of iCloud. If you don’t, Activation Lock will still be enabled, which could cause problems for whoever is using the phone next.

As a lot of data on your iPhone is linked to your iCloud account, you shouldn’t delete contacts, photos, calendars or documents until after you’ve signed out of your iCloud account, or you’ll delete them from your iCloud account and other linked devices. To sign out, go to to Settings and tap your name, Then scroll down and tap Sign out. You’ll be prompted for your Apple ID password. For iOS versions 10.2 and earlier, tap Settings>iCloud>Sign Out and follow the prompts.

If you are switching to an Android phone, don’t forget to turn off iMessage. Go to Settings>Messages and tap Turn off iMessage.

To wipe your iPhone, got to Settings>General>Reset. Then tap Erase all content and settings>Erase iPhone. You’ll have to confirm you want to erase your phone, then enter your passcode if prompted.

Android:

Android phones are a little more complex, mainly because the menus and options differ slightly from phone to phone, due to their customised software. But the process itself remains relatively similar.

First, remove your sim card and memory card if there is one in the phone. You can leave the phone connected to wifi if needed.

For phones running Android Lollipop (Android 5.0) or newer, you will have to remove Factory Reset Protection before you reset it. This is a security feature designed to stop thieves stealing phones, wiping them and reselling them.

Go to Settings>Accounts and tap your Google account. Select your Google email address, then tap the menu icon and Remove account. If you have a Samsung account, remove that too, by going to Settings >Lock screen and security >Find My Mobile.

Once you have removed these accounts, you can perform the reset through Settings>Backup and reset>Factory data reset. Click Erase everything.

Regardless of what version of Android you are using, to make sure your devices have no access to your Google account, go to myaccount.google.com/security, and click on Device activity & notifications. You’ll see a list of devices there with the last time they accessed your account. Select the one you want to remove and click Remove.