About to upgrade to a newer model or buy a new smartphone? Make sure to delete all data from the old one before giving it away and selling it. Smartphones store a huge amount of personal data, including messages, browsing history, passwords, photos, and contacts. Doing a factory reset doesn’t always wipe away everything.
For example, apps and browsers save account passwords that don’t necessarily get wiped in a factory reset. Plus, the new owner could restore those deleted files, apps, and even messages. A few years ago, Avast bought 20 used Android phones off eBay and used simple recovery software to collect tons of data from them.
These reasons and more make it necessary to wipe all data from an old smartphone properly. Android users should follow these steps to ensure all their data is wiped and gone forever.
How to Wipe an Android Smartphone
First off, make sure to back up any important data on the phone before starting this process. Android phones have a back-up setting (located in Settings > System > Backup). Some apps, like WhatsApp, back data up to their own cloud servers for the linked account or phone number too. Make sure that’s turned on and up to date.
Step 1: Remove Factory Reset Protection (FRP)
FRP has been introduced in Android 5.0 Lollipop, and every subsequent operating system has it as well. Factory Reset Protection aims to protect a user’s data should thieves steal it and wipe the data to sell it. If the phone is wiped without turning this off, then it will be locked and ask for the username and password of the last linked Google account. The new owner won’t have that info and won’t be able to use the phone.
To deactivate FRP, remove any phone locks and the linked Google account:
To delete a screen lock, go to Settings > Lock Screen & Security > Screen Lock and turn it off.
To remove the connected Google account, go to Settings > Users and Accounts. Select the account(s) and click on Remove.
Step 2: Encrypt data
Encrypting any data that will be left on the phone keeps new owners from restoring wiped data. This is a crucial step. It’s a natural setting on Android phones and doesn’t require an additional download.
The setting’s location differs from one phone brand to another but generally goes like Settings > Security > Encrypt phone. Afterward, the phone will ask for a password every time it is turned on. Since the new owner won’t have the password, they can’t decrypt the old data.
Step 3: Delete saved passwords and browser history
Browsers, like Chrome, let people save their passwords, making it easier to log into accounts. This also makes it easy for someone else to get those passwords if they have the know-how. Delete all browser data to be safe. The method will differ from one browser to the next, so follow this handy guide.
Step 4: Remove external storage
Don’t want these falling into the wrong hands! Skip this step if there aren’t any additional external storage, like SD cards, on the phone.
Step 5: It’s finally time to factory reset the phone
Again the location of this setting will be different from one phone to another. Generally, though, the factory reset settings can be found under Settings > General > Backup & Reset > Factory Data Reset. If it’s hard to find, then search within the settings menu for “factory reset,” and the setting should pop up.
Keep in mind that security is still important when it comes to getting rid of old phones. There are plenty of ways criminals can get access to anything stored or sent via a new phone.
To that end, make sure to apply additional security layers like phone locks, strong account passwords, two-factor authentication, and a VPN. The latter is particularly relevant to any security-conscious person who has typed “how to hide my IP” into a search browser. Well, a VPN is how, and just like passwords, it’s a security essential.
Making sure sensitive information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is a task that never ends. But the pay-off (i.e., not having personal info stolen or abused) is worth it.