/ Technology

Do you always erase your personal data on old devices?

smartphone

Last year, my flat was burgled. I was only just in the process of moving in, and so they got barely anything for their efforts apart from three battered laptops. 

These machines were near relics. One hadn’t been turned on for years, the other two didn’t turn on at all. I kept them in a mix of laziness and fear that they still held fragments of data.

At some point, I intended to safely erase this data. Problem is, now I will never know where it’s gone.

Data dread

Putting aside my skittish paranoia, the likelihood is those laptops ended up in the bin. I can’t see anyone wanting to buy them, or viewing it a worthwhile endeavour to recover the hard drives.

However, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t just wipe the machines when I had the chance, and maybe even sold them when they did have some value.

Even those who do sell their devices don’t always wipe them.

In 2014, researchers at security firm Avast extracted a mind-boggling 40,000 photos from just 20 Android phones it bought on eBay, including over 1,000 featuring nudity.

Our investigation into deleting personal data

As featured in the latest edition of Which? magazine, we sent Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, along with PC and Mac laptops, off to specialist data recovery lab, Kroll Ontrack, to see what data was left on them.

The good news is the majority of devices in our snapshot research were clear of data. However, a few still had personal emails, photos, text messages and documents left on them. It was clear that they hadn’t been wiped properly.

You can make hundreds of pounds selling an old phone, tablet or laptop, so it’s a great thing to do when you’re ready to upgrade.

Just follow our guide to ensure an Android, iOS, Mac or PC gadget is wiped so you aren’t left with a lingering sense of data dread.

Have you sold on a device? Was deleting personal data upmost in your mind? Or have you bought a second-hand gadget and found information or photos left on it?

Comments
Member

My “old devices”, including hard drives, get retired with a very large mallet followed by a dunking in engine oil. They are never, ever, sold.

Member

I have sometimes acquired 2nd hand devices with previous users’ data on them.

If am I selling, or giving away, old devices, I usually do my best to wipe any data off them.

Member

Sorry to say the normal wiping available to the public doesnt really do the job , they can still hold data and the old hard drives could be pulled apart and interrogated with digital electronic equipment . To really remove it requires a professional app which you have to pay for its then issued with a certificate of erasure and the new SSD,s require an even better one —that costs ,so your -download it for free from the web just doesnt “cut the mustard ” . Tool for guaranteeing removal of data — sledgehammer , making sure ALL the chips are smashed to powder.

Member

It’s amazing that many still believe that simply deleting files will destroy them.

Member

Were applicable, old hard drives are removed and placed in a portable caddy.

Member

Yes William , Maplin have sold them for years I have several used as external storage ,on, not just my computer but on my satellite box , works just fine got over 200 films on it , better watch out for the copyright squad got some from countries that show up to date films —for Free . .

Member

I have re-formatted a one or two hard drives with a lump hammer but have quite a collection of old laptops and external hard drives going back to the 90s. One of the reasons I hold on to the laptops is because newer computers can’t open some of the old files.

Member

That re-formatting,s hard on the wrist Wavechange, isn’t it ?