Removing Personal Information

Removing Personal Information from Your Phone or Other Devices Before Recycling or Selling

Removing Personal Information

There are many media reports about people finding information about the previous user.  Sometimes it’s fairly innocuous, such as a few harmless photos, but it can quickly turn sour, as people have this odd habit of taking what you might call “inappropriate” pictures of themselves (or specific body parts) and others.  These types of stories pop up all the time—“9-year-old finds nude pics on used Nintendo 3DS”—or others very similar.  In the case of photos, any device with a camera is susceptible from phones, to iPods with built-in cameras, to gaming devices, such as the Nintendo 3DS, and the list, inevitably and unfortunately, goes on.

Of course, in the information world, a few pics, nude or not, don’t compare to the other types of information that might be lurking on your phone.  This could include banking information (login credentials), email passwords, app passwords, and passwords in general that are tied to some type of account capable of making monetary transactions.  When you pass that phone on to someone else, either selling it online or sending it off to an e-recycling program, you want to be sure you haven’t left any artifacts your life hidden way on the device.

Where Personal Information Might Be Stored:

Web Browser

Check your browsers settings.  Is it saving search terms, usernames, and passwords?  Are you continuously storing cookie and form data?  If it is, make sure you have the ability to delete that information.  Many browser apps allow have a setting to delete this information upon close.  If your browser app doesn’t let you delete this data, or the app lacks the intuitiveness to easily do so, consider getting a new browser app.


There are apps that store personal information, from credit card numbers to birthdates to your location.  Some apps even relay this information to the app developers who, depending on the terms of service (you read that, right?) can then sell that information to third parties, profiting off of you.  This doesn’t necessarily include your credit card number—it shouldn’t but there are fake apps out there designed to resemble legitimate app that are designed to do just that.  Read the terms of service for every app you download to see what the developer may be doing with your information and how it is stored in the app, either remotely or on your phone’s internal memory.


Many of us have the names, phone numbers, and addresses of others stored on our phones, in addition to our own.  No deleting this data when you sell or get rid of your phone could potentially compromise these individuals.  Most people don’t think much of names and addresses, since it’s commonly available.  However, scammers are becoming increasingly savvy and can do significant damage with such seemingly harmless information.

Removing the Information:

There are multiple ways to go about removing the personal information stored on your phone.  First, you can manually delete everything (probably after you’ve backed up the stuff you want to keep).  This is in no way foolproof, since you might forget something or the data might not be completely removed.

Second, you can do a factory reset.  Depending on the phone and operating system, it’s usually in the system settings.  On an iPhone, you can reset the device through the “Settings” app.  You’ll see a range of options allowing you to reset all settings, as well as an option to erase all content.  On an Android phone, you can erase the phone’s data opening the “Settings” app or tab.  Then scroll the “Privacy.”  Here you’ll find erase and reset options.

After that, simply remove any SD or similar memory cards, along with the SIM card, and you should be fine.  As long as you are thorough and thoughtful about your approach to removing information, it should be gone and unrecoverable and you can safely sell your phone.

Vivid Times

This article is written by Vivid Time Staff member.