How to Clear Personal Data Off Your Smartphone

18 December 2015

This holiday season, electronics are sure to take the top spot on many Canadians’ wish lists. Of those who are lucky enough to unwrap a new smartphone, tablet or computer, many take the opportunity to make a bit of extra cash by trading in their old models. Buyback programs can be a great way to make some money back after the holiday shopping season, as some stores offer hundreds of dollars for relatively new devices.

While selling your old electronics can be a great source of cash, it can also put you at risk of identity theft, as our devices hold more personal information than ever before. Even when you think you have deleted all of your old files, determined identity thieves can sometimes use data recovery tools to gain access to them again, long after you have walked away from the device. While no method short of physically destroying the hardware can fully protect your data from being resurrected, there are some best practices you can follow to clear your devices as fully as possible.

Here are some tips on how to wipe your data from smartphones running Android or iOS:
Before you begin:

  1. Back up all your data, including contacts
  2. Remove the SIM card and any external storage you have installed, such as a microSD card
  3. Log out of services like email and social media, then clear the data from these apps if you can
  4. Encrypt and wipe the data from your microSD card as well if you don’t plan to use it again
  5. Keep the serial number of the phone or tablet on file for your records

While performing a factory reset of your Android device is the easiest way to wipe it, this method only clears data at the application level, leaving other information recoverable. The key is to encrypt your phone data before deleting the data. This way any data left on the phone will also be scrambled, rendering it useless even to those using data recovery tools. To encrypt your Android device, go to Settings and tap on Security. Then, choose Encrypt device (in some phones it is Encrypt phone). On the following page, tap Set screen lock type to set the lock.

This can take up to an hour, so only start the encryption when you know you won’t need to use your phone for a little while. After the encryption is complete, you can perform the factory reset of your phone. In the Settings menu, tap Backup and reset, then find Factory data reset. To begin the process, choose Reset phone at the end of the screen.


According to, Apple devices that support iOS 5 or later automatically include hardware encryption when you set a passcode. When you perform a wipe, the encryption key will also be overwritten, making it very difficult for anyone who wants to recover the data.

To get started, first turn off all iCloud services, such as Find My iPhone, and sign out of your iCloud account. If you delete all your data manually without signing out of iCloud, it will delete your iCloud backup as well, which you definitely do not want if you will be setting up a new Apple device in the future. Then, turn off and sign out of other services, such as iMessage, Apple ID, as well as linked apps like Facebook and Twitter.

Now you are free to begin the wipe process. In the General tab of the Settings app, choose Reset, then Erase All Content and Settings. After confirming the reset, the wipe will begin.

Even having encrypted the rest your phone, there is no way to guarantee a sophisticated hacker won’t be able to scrape some information off of it. Because so many of us have submitted payments through apps in our phones or stored payment information in digital wallets, it’s a good idea to monitor your accounts closely so you’ll be ready to react if you notice unusual activity. By signing up for a credit monitoring service, you can get notified of certain activity in your credit files that could indicate fraud, allowing you to take action against ID thieves before they can do serious damage to your credit and identity.