How do I delete my data?

Question: How do I delete my data?

Detailed information about deleting your personal data safely from smart devices.

It’s important to be safe with data – you’re responsible for removing personal and private data from your devices before passing them on for reuse or recycling. 

The range of products that can hold your personal data is wider than you might think. Desktop and laptop computers, external hard drives, tablets, and mobile phones – even games consoles, printers printers, and digital camera memory cards might be storing information about you that you would prefer to keep private. 

When passing on your old devices or getting them ready to recycle there are a number of ways you can make sure your data is safe. You can:

  • follow your product manufacturer’s guidance;
  • download reputable specialist software;
  • pay a reputable professional to do the job for you.

Whichever route you take, bear in mind there’s a difference between data deletion (where it can be recovered) and data destruction (where it can’t).

Having said that, destroying your data generally doesn’t have to mean physically destroying a device – in most cases you should be able to protect your privacy while extending the useful life of your product. For more information on data security visit the UK’s public authority, the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Use the information below to help you remove your data from computers, laptops and mobile devices.

Computers and laptops

  1. Backup your files 

The first step is to backup your important files, like your documents and photos. You can transfer these to your new computer, store them in an external hard drive or upload them to the cloud (eg. Dropbox or iCloud). It’s a good idea to note down the licence numbers from any important software, just in case you need to reinstall it on your new device.

  1. Return your computer to factory settings 

You should factory reset your computer before passing it on or recycling it. This removes the files and programmes you’ve added and leaves only the basic operating system and pre-installed programmes on the device. Initiating a factory reset will vary depending on your operating system. 

For Windows you’ll usually go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Reset this PC. 

For Mac you will generally need to Restart your Mac > Open in Recovery Mode > hold Command + R until you see the Apple logo > Erase Your Data. If you need more information, refer to the manufacturer’s website for your specific operating system e.g. Apple, Windows.

  1. Secure your hard drive

In terms of securing data, usually performing a factory reset is enough to delete all your sensitive data. But if you want to go one step further, consider removing the hard drive and/ or using data-shredding software. 

  • Data-shredding software

Windows 10 lets you shred data from within its factory reset options. For all other operating systems, you can run additional data-shredding software. Which? has a guide to wiping a hard drive where you can find more detailed information.

  • Removing the hard drive

You can also remove the hard drive entirely. You can then either destroy the old hard drive – or insert it into an external caddy (these are available affordably online if you search ‘hard drive caddy’). The caddy will convert it into a USB hard drive that you can use to store and access data, just like a regular external hard drive. 

  1. Disconnect Apple desktops or laptops from your iCloud account – see below.

iPhones and iPads

  1. Back up your files 

The first step is to back up your iPhone, which can be done easily through iCloud. Make sure you’re plugged in to power and connected to Wi-Fi – then navigate through Settings > Apple ID banner > iCloud > iCloud Backup > Back Up Now. 

These exact steps may vary slightly depending on the model of iPhone you’re using, but it will always be a similar process. Wait for your iPhone backup to complete before moving forward.

  1. Erase your data 

The second step is erasing your data. This process will return your phone to the initial set-up screen so that you have a clean device to pass on or recycle. 

To erase your data, navigate through Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. You will need to enter your passcode to complete the process. 

  1. Remove your SIM card

Ensure your SIM card has been physically removed from your iPhone before you pass it on for reuse or recycling. For further information see Apple’s guide to removing your SIM card.

Disconnect from your iCloud account

This applies to Apple desktops, laptops and mobile devices.

  • On another device, sign in to your account on iCloud.com/find.
  • Click ‘All devices’ and select the product you’re passing on.
  • Click ‘Erase’.
  • When erase is complete, click ‘Remove from account’.
  • With older devices, you might have to click ‘x’ to disconnect.

Android phones 

  1. Back up your files 

The first step is to back up your Android device. To back up through Google: Make sure you’re plugged into power and connected to Wi-Fi – then navigate through Settings > Backup & Reset > Backup My Data > Accounts > Google.

The exact steps will vary slightly depending on the manufacturer and the version of Android you have, but you will always back up through your Google account. 

  1. Erase your data

The second step is erasing your data. This process can take over an hour, so ensure your device is connected to power. 

Go to Settings > Security > Encrypt Phone. Once this has been completed, navigate to Settings > Backup & Reset > Factory Data Reset > Erase Phone Data. 

  1. Remove your microSD card

If your Android device has a microSD card, you need to remove this before passing on for reuse or recycling. For further information see Dummies guide to removing a microSD card.

Remove security locks

On both Android and Apple mobile devices, remove your security pin/password, touch ID or face-recognition ID – this is done in ‘Settings’.