It seems that about every few months, manufacturers introduce a new smart phone or tablet mobile device. Perhaps, you received a new mobile device recently as a Christmas or birthday present. Maybe, you are a consumer who must have the latest technology. Regardless, your collection of old and obsolete mobile devices can quickly pile up.
What should consumers do with their old mobile devices? Or more precisely: how should consumers dispose of their old mobile devices to avoid identity theft and fraud?
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises consumers to, first, permanently delete all personal information from your old smart phone or mobile device:
"Permanent data deletion usually requires several steps. Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from the phone. That’s an important first step in deleting information, but you likely will need to do more to erase all the sensitive data on your device. You can command a cell phone to delete certain data, but that will only delete the references to where the data is located; the actual information stays on the phone’s operating system."
Consult the user manual for your smart phone (you kept it, didn't you?) for the exact steps to permanently delete contact information, lists of calls received and made, photos, passwords, and any payment information.
Second, you have several disposal options:
- Recycle: many cellular phone manufacturers, service providers, and non-profit organizations groups offer programs to recycle their components, including accessories like chargers. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to learn more about recycling programs. Consult Earth911 to find a nearby recycling center. The U.S. Postal Service operates a free “Mail Back” program for consumers to recycle small electronic products: smart phones, digital cameras, PDAs, and inkjet cartridges. Free envelopes are available at select Post Offices.
- Donate: some charitable organizations accept old mobile devices.
- Resell: Some individuals and organizations will buy your old mobile devices.
- Dispose properly: mobile device batteries should not be placed in the trash. Many cellular phones contain toxic metals, which can contaminate the environment. Instead, dispose when your town/city offers hazardous waste collection days.
If you operate a small business that collected the sensitive personal data of your clients, customers, contractors, and/or employees, then certain data security rules may apply. Check with your industry trade association of the FTC website. For example, certain rules apply for health organizations when disposing PHI data (PDF). Another example, the American Bar Association (ABA) advises its member attorneys:
"... However, the January 01, 2007 edition of the Federal Trade Commission's Disposal Rule (16 CFR Part 682) says that the responsibility to properly dispose of consumer information includes the sale, donation or transfer of any medium, including computer equipment, upon which consumer information is stored."