February 3, 2009

Yahoo: 99% of recycled cell phones still contain owner data

Yahoo: 99% of recycled cell phones still contain owner dataThe reports of owners purchasing used or refurbished cell phones and other gadgets and finding sensitive material on them have become so commonplace they're no longer eyebrow-raising in the slightest. Why, last week a New Zealand man bought a used MP3 player for about 10 bucks... and was bemused to find it preloaded with U.S. military records and personnel data for troops stationed in the Middle East. In December, an old BlackBerry sold at a McCain campaign garage sale for 20 dollars was found to be preloaded with a mountain of Republican donor information, emails, and more. Just another day at the flea market, it seems...

Why are all these reports popping up? Turns out they're the norm, not the exception, as the vast majority of cell phones sent in for recycling aren't properly wiped clean, with a full 99 percent of them containing sensitive material when they're gotten rid of, including personal emails and financial information and logins.

The numbers come from Regenersis, a cell phone recycling outfit that processed two million handsets last year and tested a random sampling of the phones it's received in order to reach this shocking conclusion.

The truly sad thing is that wiping a cell phone clean is for most handsets not an altogether complex operation (if you've lost your manual, try a web search for the make and model of your cell phone and the phrase "hard reset"), but many phone buyers, in the mad scramble to move to their sexy new handset, simply ignore this step.

And don't expect a recycling firm or a charity to do the wipe for you. Most firms can't afford to spend that kind of time on any given phone and simply check to make sure the phone works, not that it's clean of all data from the previous owner.

I'm not one to recommend destroying a perfectly good gadget that someone else could find useful, so please don't resort to drilling holes in old phones or crushing them with a vise. Instead, take the 60 seconds to figure out how to do a proper factory reset/hard reset on your phone, remove memory and/or SIM cards, check to make sure everything's been wiped, and then send your cleaned-out handset on to the next guy.


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