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Personal data could be lurking on your old mobile

Old mobile phones

Have you ever sold an old mobile? If you have, did you make sure to remove all your personal data? Are you sure? Because taking out your sim card and pressing ‘delete’ could still leave sensitive data behind…

I have every mobile phone I’ve ever owned – either in my pocket or in my bottom drawer. Yes, I’ve only ever owned two mobiles. Both are chunky beasts and soon I’ll replace my current faithful Nokia brick with a slim and smarter one.

And when that swap happens, my Nokia will join its brother at the bottom of my drawer. At first this was because I knew I’d only get less than a fiver if I sold it for scrap, but now it might be due to the amount of data I might unwittingly leave on it.

What have you left on your old mobile phone?

Half of us are leaving private personal data on our discarded mobiles according to Disklabs. From the 50 handsets they bought off eBay, many had data as sensitive as credit card numbers, pins and even (heaven forbid) pornographic photos.

Depending on your model, data’s stored in all sorts of places on your mobile. Simply pressing ‘delete’ on a text message, for example, is often not enough to remove it completely.

Plus, with the rise of apps, there’s a lot more diverse sensitive info lurking within your phone. Take for example, GPS apps – these often know where you live, down to the metre. You wouldn’t want that getting into the wrong hands – especially if you’ve unwittingly left your bank account details on your mobile as well.

That’s not to say leaving data on your mobile is all your fault. How are you meant to know that pressing ‘delete’ doesn’t get rid of your info for good? So my advice (and Disklabs) is to perform a factory reset on your mobile before you trade it in – you’ll find this in your settings menu – it’s the most reliable way to get rid of your personal data.

And mobile phone manufactures, shame on you for not letting us know how to delete our data absolutely.


I was given a mobile phone from a friend after he had a free upgrade. A few weeks later, when deleting a load of text messages, I came across text between him and his ex wife regarding their divorce proceedings, who would be getting what and how much the house was worth….it was better then watching an episode of Jerry Springer!

Sue Shaw says:
15 October 2010

I had a free upgrade and assumed the guy in the Orange shop had transferred all my info onto my new phone. I was about to put my old phone into a recycling box when my brother asked if he could use it. When he went to add details to the address book it still had all my phone numbers in there. Also any text messages I hadn’t deleted were still on there. I was shocked. I was not informed that this would be the case.

Gareth says:
15 October 2010

I recently got handed a new work Blackberry with a memory card that had been used by a collegue, lets just say i’m sure he would have rathered the pictures he left on it had been deleted, was quite an eyeopener. thankfully i’m nice and only showed it to a couple of my friends before i deleted them 🙂

Rhyd says:
20 October 2010

I’d have to say that in some cases even performing a factory reset doesn’t always do the trick. I recently wiped an old O2 PDA-type phone that was running some sat-nav software. I have a new phone now but thought I would hang on to the old one so I could just use it as a sat-nav – thought I would take all my personal details off there though lest it fall into the wrong hands. I was amazed to find that, after I had done the factory reset and re-installed the sat-nav software, it still brought up all my old favourite destinations as if nothing had happened! How does it do that?!

Ah, that is where the Nigerians get the info to send us their millions of US Dollars for free; old phones (and all other electronic items) are shipped to developing countries after firms here ‘take your old device/product for free’ – they fill millions of containers, off to all developing countries, sell as ‘job-lots’ at quite high prices, and they end uop in the hands of these fraudsters, who return the favour to us for ripping them off in the first place – chicken, egg, who knows??