Data danger on recycled handsets


Most mobile phone recyclers surveyed are not concerned about data left on recycled mobiles

Consumers are failing to protect their data and identities by properly erasing information from mobile devices they then recycle, according to a new survey that revealed a lack of consensus on how consumers believe they are able to erase data from mobile handsets.

Mobile phone recyclers raised reservations about how much personal data could effectively be wiped, the study showed. Only around a quarter (26%) of all adults believed manually deleting data can completely wipe it from a smartphone and less than half (37%) thought the same about performing a factory reset.

Despite the uncertainties, 59% of people that have recycled a mobile phone surveyed by YouGov on behalf of smartphone defence specialist BlackBelt, have still tried to manually delete information before a mobile phone leaves their possession, even though only 21% of all UK adults believe there isn't a fail-safe way to remove all data from a smartphone.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of the mobile phone recyclers have removed a SIM card from their mobile phone in an attempt to erase personal data, but less than a quarter (23%) of all adults believe removing this will make their information irretrievable by third parties, said BlackBelt.

In addition, 50% of respondents have taken the time to perform a factory reset according to the survey, which looked into the attitudes of UK adults towards personal data security on mobile phones.

Additionally, 25% of those surveyed have knowingly owned a second hand or refurbished mobile handset and nearly one in three (32%) of those individuals have discovered the previous owner's contacts, photos or other information on the device.

The survey revealed a total of 41% of the sample currently owning a mobile phone has recycled, part-exchanged or sold a phone (excluding selling it to a member if their family,) in the past and can therefore be described as mobile phone recyclers. Almost six in 10 (59%) of those mobile phone recyclers are not concerned about their personal data when sending a handset away for recycling or part exchange. The results suggest this is down to a lack of awareness or concern for the risks stemming from leaving data on mobile devices.

Due to the typical 12 to 24 month upgrade cycle for mobile phone contracts, recycling is becoming an increasingly popular option for disposing for old handsets. Of those who currently own a mobile phone, 26% have previously recycled an old handset, whilst just over a fifth (21%) have either part-exchanged or sold on a used mobile device.

Ken Garner, business development manager at BlackBelt, said: 'In these difficult economic times it's understandable that more people are looking to either sell on or purchase used devices. I'd heard anecdotal evidence about the amount of private data, people were finding on second hand handsets, however these figures throw this into stark relief. The poll results suggest that people should be a lot more concerned about how much of their data remains on a device when it is passed onto a third party because this has the potential to open them up to risks such as fraud and identity theft.'

Garner continued: 'It's reassuring that people are doing what they can to protect their data despite their reservations around the effectiveness. However, we were surprised that there are still some who made no effort to remove their data and this suggests that a great number of us are opening up our data to cybercriminals. This statistic is likely to be of even greater concern to business owners, after all with the rise of bring your own device schemes in the workplace, it's not just our personal data that's at risk.'

BlackBelt claimed that in reality it is not possible for an individual to perform a full removal of personal data from any smartphone or tablet using a device's in-built factory reset or by re-flashing the operating system. This is because contemporary devices are fitted with solid state memory, which uses a technique called wear levelling to minimise data corruption and extend its lifespan by overruling instructions to permanently overwrite old data.

However, BlackBelt's DataWipe product currently completely removes data from Android, iPhone and BlackBerry operating systems, and there are plans to extend cover to additional operating systems and tablets in the near future.


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