Repair

How to secure your personal data before having your phone repaired

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Broken screens. Shitty batteries. Too long a dip in the toilet.

The phones we touch every day may be surprisingly tough, but invincible? Not even close. And even though companies like Apple and Samsung have launched self-service programs for simple repairs, sometimes it’s unavoidable to visit a local repair shop – or a shiny gadget store. Remember to secure your personal data first.

After all, our phones are about as personal as technology gets. And when you need to give that device to someone else – someone you don’t usually even know – it’s worth taking every precaution. (This is especially true when you need to mail your phone in for repairs, as it might encounter even more people in transit.)

The next time you need to get your phone repaired, be sure to keep these steps in mind before you drop it off.

Keep control of your phone number

Unless you’re pretty sure your repair job will be quick, you’ll probably want to make sure you can always stay connected. If your phone still has a physical SIM card — that little piece of plastic and silicone that stores your phone number — you can remove it and insert it into another phone to use as needed.

Not everyone will be so lucky.

Some newer smartphones — including all of Apple’s new iPhone 14 models sold in the United States — use “built-in” SIM cards instead of those pesky bits of plastic. That means you can’t get out of that repair shop and easily swipe your phone number to another device.

Our advice? The moment you know you’ll need to use your phone for repairs, call your mobile carrier to determine 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 generations, the new Samsung Galaxy S phones from the S20 onwards and all but the first Google phone. pixels.

If that’s not an option, you may be able to reactivate a physical SIM card still stuck in your last phone to use it temporarily. And if all else fails, you may need to venture to a carrier store to get a physical SIM card to use in one of your old phones until you get your repaired phone back.

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

There’s only one way to be absolutely sure that a repairman won’t be able to dig into your files: get rid of all before handing over your phone. Here’s how to do it safely.

1. Back up your phone. For iPhones, you can choose to back everything up 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 little 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 elsewhere. Google Photos and Google Drive are obvious choices, but you can also store files on your computer instead. (For a brief video guide, check out our Quick Fix videos here.)

2. Erase your phone. Once you are sure that your important files are stored in a safe place, clean 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 in their own way – you can open the Settings app, tap on 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 setting it up normally. At some point during the installation process, you will be asked if you want to restore from a backup. Be sure to pick the right one – in this case, probably the newest!

Look, if you give your phone to someone — anyone — to work outside of your supervision, you should seriously consider the backup-erase-restore process. But what if your phone is in such bad shape that you can’t even really use it?

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

If your phone still turns on

Android phones and iPhones that always turn on and connect to the internet leave us with some useful options. If you’ve already set your device to automatically back up to iCloud or Google One, you can check the last time this happened – here are instructions from Apple and Google – and wait for the next automatic backup if needed.

Maybe it turns out you have a viable save after all, or maybe you just want to play it safe. Either way, you can also remotely wipe an iPhone or Android phone from the comfort of your computer.

If you have an Android phone that seems like it’s going too far, there’s one more thing to try: remotely signing out of your Google account. This ensures that others cannot see anything you have stored in, for example, 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 box labeled “Your Devices”, then click “Manage All Devices”
  4. Click on 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 that’s the case. If you’re really concerned about what’s left on your phone, you can try remotely wiping the phone like we described above. If the phone turns on and connects to the internet, it will automatically try to reset.

For more basic repairs such as screen replacements and battery swaps, it’s perfectly fine to go to a local repair shop or a chain like uBreakiFix. But if you find yourself in a situation like this where your phone just won’t come back to life, the best bet might be to go to the company that made it for a repair – if only because it improves the chances of getting a full replacement.