How Clean is Your Cell Phone?

A recent blog on Yahoo! Reported that 99% of recycled or resold cell phones do not have personal information removed from them before reuse. NINETY-NINE PERCENT!

For those of you who like to analyze statistics, here’s what Yahoo! reported:

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. (source:

It is interesting to read this short blog and find that cell phones aren’t the only devices containing sensitive data. But, since I deal with cell phones every day, I’m going to concentrate on those.

What do you have on your phone?

I am not easily shocked. I admit that I have experienced enough in my 41+ years to have very little that’ll make me blush. But, in my year and a half of working at Central Maine Wireless, I have seen more than one thing that has made me shake my head and wonder “Why?”.

Let’s talk about the useful stuff first. Then we’ll discuss the stuff that might make me blush.

Modern cell phones have a bunch of great tools to make life easier for the user.

All models have contact “books”. Most can hold at least 500 contacts. Each contact can hold phone numbers, addresses, email address, etc.

Most models have calendars. With a little practice, you can easily keep track of client meetings, doctors appointments, kids’ & spouses’ schedules, etc. And, depending upon how fancy that calendar is, maybe more personal information.

Most smart phones (i.e Blackberry, Moto Q, HTC), and some standard models, have “note pads” too. You can easily note information important to you, but, potentially “useful” in the wrong hands, too.

All of this information, being stored in one place, makes your life easier, more productive, and/or less stressful. Let me share a quick personal story:

I am a book junkie! I admit it and wear the badge proudly. In the past, I was constantly writing titles and authors on anything handy – usually a scrap piece of paper that I promptly lost. Now, I just take out my HTC 6800 Smartphone and I write down the information (yes – write! Because my phone has a touch screen and cool note function that allows me to write notes). Then, the next time I am in the bookstore, I can just take out my phone, bring up the note and find the book I want.

It is so cool that we can do that kind of thing with one device. It was not too long ago that PDAs and phones were separate devices and to have the functionality of both, you had to carry both…not that convenient, right?

Okay, so now let’s get to the “fun” stuff…

You have WHAT on your phone?

Why? Why? Why?

Why would people put “very personal” pictures on their phone? Have they learned nothing from watching E! ?

I start with pictures, because I think that’s been the biggest newsmaker. The latest celeb to be bitten by the camera-phone age is Michael Phelps. Granted, Michael didn’t have the infamous “Bong hit” on his phone. But, he still got stung by the little lens.

I can’t tell you how many people have come into the store to get new equipment and gotten red-faced when we told them we were transferring their contacts – and pictures – into their new phone. I thought one woman was going to pass out as she breathlessly asked “Can you see the pictures?” I assured he we could only see the file names as the machine transferred the data. But, the flag was raised that it wasn’t pictures of the kids and the new puppy she was worried about.

And it’s not just the Retail Wireless Consultant you have to be concerned about. Sending a picture message of your “bits & bobs” to someone can be risky business. Just one digit off and you’re sending that personal image to someone you might not know…or, maybe, someone you do…like your boss!!

Text messages can be just as bad. Some of the things I’ve seen “said” in texts would make a sailor blush. Why are you keeping them? I clean my text and email files pretty much daily. If there is something I think I need to keep, I send it to my email address at home and file it safely away in some other way.

So, what can you do?

1) “Lock” (in other words…password protect) your phone. And make it something you will remember. Once the password is set, it’s permanent (unless you change it…and to change it, you have to remember the one you already set). Phones that are “locked” with a password have to have the software flashed (i.e. wiped clean) by a tech in order to get back into it. That means everything is lost. If you need that information, this can be devastating.

2) Ask your local cell phone retailer to wipe your device clean before putting it in the recycling bin. Most locations have the knowledge, codes, etc. required to make sure that all of your data is erased. With that said, damaged phones that will not power up, or devices where you can’t see the screen, may not be able to be wiped at the retail location. And, as noted in the Yahoo! article, most recycling facilities don’t have the time or resources to clean each device. So, keep personal data to a minimum. Erase what you don’t need regularly (this will also help your phone perform better.

3) Keep your “personal” pics and texts just that…personal! Store them somewhere else. Or just don’t use your camera-phone to take pictures of a bawdy (or body) nature.

Next time…let’s talk about cleaning of another sort!

Thanks for reading!


About Paul H-C

Just an avid reader in the little town of Bangor, Maine (Yes, that Bangor...home of Stephen King). When I'm not reading and drinking coffee, I sell cell phones by the sea shore.
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