Why You Should Guard Your Phone Data During Repairs

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A recent case of stolen photos proves the point. The recent news of a student whose intimate photos were revealed after she sent her iPhone for repair is a reminder to users to lock down their data, experts say.

Key Takeaways

–> Apple has settled the case of a woman whose photos were posted online after taking her phone in for repair, according to recent reports.
–> The story of the 21-year-old student whose photos were taken shows that users need to be careful with their data.
–> Log out of all the accounts and apps on your phone to ensure no unauthorized party has any access to any of that data before handing over your phone, experts say.

Apple settled a case with a 21-year-old woman after sending her iPhone to a repair facility in 2016, only to find that employees had uploaded personal explicit images and videos to her Facebook account from the phone during the repair process. The company reportedly paid the woman millions of dollars to settle the suit. It’s a risk many people run when having their phones repaired.

“When you hand over your phone for repairs, it is not merely a device but also your entire personal data trove that goes with it,” privacy expert Pankaj Srivastava, the CEO and founder of management consulting firm PracticalSpeak, said in an email interview. “Most consumers do not yet understand that security is also only as good as its weakest link. In this scenario, the weakest link could be you as the consumer.”

How Risky Are Repairs?

Most places where you’d take your phone for repairs will be honest, so the likelihood that you’ll have your personal information read and misused is quite slim, Attila Tomaschek, a researcher at the website ProPrivacy said in an email interview.

“I always do a backup of my data and then wipe my devices before seeking repairs. By doing so, you remove the incentive for anyone to snoop around, even accidentally.”

“However, there’s still that small chance that you’re taking your phone to a place where a dishonest repair tech will snoop on your phone’s data or even steal it, so it really does pay to be cautious whenever you take your phone in for repairs,” Tomaschek added.

Protecting Your Data

To make sure you’re handing your phone over to a reputable repair shop first do some research, Tomaschek recommends. Check the company’s reviews online, and eyeball the company’s website to see if it looks professional.

Once you’ve decided on a repair service, you’ll need to take the appropriate steps to secure your phone.

“The very least you should do before handing your phone over to a repair tech is to log out of all your accounts and apps on your phone to ensure no unauthorized party has any access to any of the data on your apps,” Tomaschek said.

You also can use an app that locks certain files like photos and messages on your phone so they can’t be accessed without a password, he added. Make sure to remove your SIM card, as well as any external storage like a microSD card you may have in your phone that stores data. Finally, before you hand your phone to a repair tech, you’ll need to make sure that you create a full backup of your phone.

“That way, you can simply complete a factory reset and wipe your phone completely before submitting it for repairs to ensure no sensitive personal data whatsoever is accessible to the repair tech,” Tomasheck said.

Both Apple and Android make it easy to back up and restore your device, so you can fully restore your phone to its earlier state from a recent backup in a matter of minutes after getting your phone back from being serviced.

While there is no reason for anyone in a repair shop to access your personal data, in many instances there are genuine requirements for unlocking to get the device fixed, Srivastava said. For this reason, most repair shops will ask you to sign a disclaimer that also asks you to remove personal data before handing it over for repairs.

“I always do a backup of my data and then wipe my devices before seeking repairs,” he added. “By doing so, you remove the incentive for anyone to snoop around, even accidentally.”

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