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Mobile Data: Off With The Old, And Keep It Off

Delete, restore, delete. These days, people are more interested in gaining control of digital data and what others see after they're done with the device. Data left on a mobile phone or tablet can become a treasure trove for the wrong person when the owner wants to trade up or sell it to buy a new model. Most consumers think they have control over the data on their phone. Not so. Here's why and how to get rid of it.

Consumer Reports Senior Editor Mike Gikas explains how to do more than delete photos, emails, app accounts and other personal data from the phone, because it takes more than a factory reset under the Setting menu, especially for Android phones, to delete data.

"Hitting the reset button is like clicking 'empty trash' on a desktop computer," Gikas explains in a post. The data typically remains, but there's no file name pointing to it, and the space it occupies is now free to store the next bit of data.

Similar to retrieving data in a "deleted" file on a PC, a skilled technician can recover the data from an Android phone that has gone through a factory reset. Gikas explains three ways to make data more difficult to recover.

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Encrypt

Apple phones and BlackBerrys encrypt their data by default. Those with an Android phone need to go to Settings, tap Security, then Screen Lock or Encrypt Device. Create a PIN or password. Then encrypt the device. Even then it could leave behind the encryption keys allowing someone to recover files.

Hard Reset

Do a Google search for “hard reset” and the name of the Android phone. You should get results from the phone manufacturer and your cell phone company, among others. While the steps vary depending on the phone, it will probably require you to hold down the power and volume buttons, selecting an option such as “reboot” or “factory reset” from a rudimentary menu, and restarting your phone several times, Gikas explains.

Remove Memory Card

Save the memory card for the next phone or smash it with a hammer, if the card is removable. If the "phone's cover doesn’t come off, stick a pin or the tip of a paper clip into the pinhole along one side of the phone," Gikas explains. "That should pop out a tray with the memory card. Sometimes the SIM card will be next to it, which you might need if your next phone will be with the same carrier."

This column was previously published in Data and Targeting Insider on June 10, 2015.

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