How to protect your personal data before repairing your phone

How to protect your personal data before repairing your phone

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Broken screens. Stray piles. Too long a dip in the toilet.

The phones we tap into every day may be surprisingly tough, but are they invincible? Not even close. And although companies like Apple Y Samsung have launched self-service programs for some simple fixes, sometimes a trip to a local repair shop, or a gleaming gadget store, is unavoidable. Just don’t forget to secure your personal data first.

After all, our phones are as personal as technology. And when you have to hand that device over to someone else, someone you usually don’t even know, it pays to take every precaution. (That’s especially true when you have to mail your phone in for repairs, since you might run into more people in transit.)

The next time your phone needs to be repaired, be sure to keep these steps in mind before handing it over.

Keep control of your phone number

Unless you’re pretty sure your repair job will go quickly, you’ll probably want to make sure you can still stay connected. If your phone still has a physical SIM card, that little sliver of plastic and silicone that stores your phone number, you can remove it and put it in another phone to use as needed.

Not everyone will be that lucky.

Some newer smartphones, including all new Apple iPhone 14 models sold in the US, use “embedded” SIM cards instead of those complicated bits of plastic. That means you can’t walk out of that repair shop and easily pass your phone number to another device.

Our advice? The minute you know you’ll have to shell out for your phone to get it repaired, call your wireless carrier to learn about your options. If you’re lucky, you can temporarily transfer your service to another phone that works with an eSIM, which includes iPhones from the XR and XS generation, newer Samsung Galaxy S phones from the S20 onwards, and all but the first Google Pixel phone.

If that’s not an option, you might be able to reactivate a physical SIM card that’s still wedged inside your last phone for temporary use. And if all else fails, you may need to venture out to a carrier store to get a physical SIM to use in one of your older phones until you get the one you repaired back.

Apple’s iPhone 14: Reliable and boring, and that’s okay

There’s only one way to be absolutely sure that a repair technician can’t mess with your files: get rid of all of them before handing over your phone. Here’s how to make that happen safely.

1. Back up your phone. For iPhones, you can choose to back up everything to iCloud or directly to a computer with a USB cable. We recommend the latter, as it is usually much faster.

Things can be a bit more complicated for Android phones; You can back up your installed apps, messages, preferences, and more to your Google account, but you’ll need to make sure your photos and important files are saved somewhere else. Google Photos and Google Drive are obvious choices, but you may also want to store files on your computer. (For a short video guide, see our Quick Fix videos here.)

2. Erase your phone. Once you are sure that your important files are stored in a safe place, wipe your phone completely. On iPhones, open the Settings app, tap General → Transfer or Reset iPhone → Erase all content and settings. Different Android phones organize things their way: you can open the Settings app, tap System or General Management, select Reset, and then choose the Factory data reset option.

3. Restore your phone. Once your repaired (or replaced or new) phone is in your hands, start by setting it up normally. At some point during the setup process, you will be asked if you want to restore from a backup. Make sure you pick the right one, in this case probably the most recent one!

Look, if you’re giving your phone to someone, anyone, to work without your supervision, you should really consider the backup-wipe-restore process. But what if your phone is in such bad shape that you can’t even use it?

Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us. And there are still some precautions you can take, even without directly touching your phone.

If your phone still turns on

Android phones and iPhones that still turn on and connect to the Internet leave us with some useful options. If you previously set your device to back up to iCloud or Google One automatically, you can check the last time it happened: here are the instructions. Apple Y Google — and wait for the next automatic backup if necessary.

Maybe it turns out that you have a working backup after all, or maybe you just want to play things as safely as possible. Either way, you can also remotely erase an iPhone either android phone from the comfort of your computer.

If you have an Android phone that seems to be going too far, there’s one more thing you can try: remotely sign out of your Google account. That ensures that others can’t see anything you’ve stored, for example, in your Gmail or Google Drive cloud storage. Here’s how to do it from a computer:

  1. View your account settings at myaccount.google.com
  2. Click on the “Security” option on the left side of the screen
  3. Scroll down to the “Your devices” box, then click “Manage all devices”
  4. Click the name of the device you want to sign out of, followed by “Sign Out”

If your phone won’t turn on

We hate to say it, but there’s not much you can do if this is the case. If you’re really worried about what’s left on your phone, you can try remotely wiping the phone in the way we described above: if the phone is turned on and connected to the internet, it will try to reset itself.

For more basic repairs like screen replacements and battery changes, going to a local repair shop or a chain like uBreakiFix is ​​totally fine. But if you find yourself in a situation like this where your phone won’t really come back to life, your best option might be to turn to the company that made it for repairs, if only because it improves your chances of getting a full replacement.

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