Erase your personal data from the iPhone

Before you send your old iPhone on its way, you need to get all that personal data off there. Like your e-mail passwords, and those compromising photos of you, and of course all your friends' e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

So that old, ancient, worn-out, first-generation iPhone is headed out the door. Maybe you'll sell it on eBay. Maybe you'll give it to a friend. But before you send it on its way, you need to get all that personal data off it, such as your e-mail passwords, and those compromising photos of you, and of course, all your friends' e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

Watch the video to see this tip in action.

If you're not too paranoid, the following is all you have to do:

  • Plug in your iPhone.

  • Launch iTunes.

  • Click on the iPhone and press restore.

This will return the iPhone to its virgin state. No files visible, no nothing.

However...as any sufficiently paranoid geek worth his salt will tell you, that doesn't actually get rid of all your data. I showed you in another Insider Secrets video how deleted files can be recovered. You don't want that happening here. An Oregon State Police detective was able to recover personal data from a refurbished iPhone bought from Apple.

Jonathan Zdziarski posted screenshots of what the detective found. He also posted his own way of wiping the iPhone. It is the most secure way I've seen, but it involves jailbreaking the iPhone and then obtaining shell access via SSH. So...you decide your own paranoia-to-work ratio. If you want Jonathan's rock-solid way, head to Zdziarski.com.

Meanwhile, here's an easier way that will still rid your iPhone of much of its data.

  • First, change your passwords, especially for e-mail and social-networking accounts accessed from the iPhone.

  • Next, do the restore we demonstrated above.

  • Then--and a little thanks to Securosis.com for this one, go into iTunes and on the info tab, uncheck all options.

  • Do the same on photos, podcasts, and video.

  • Now, create three separate playlists that are all the same size as your iPhone's storage capacity. If you have 7GB of storage free, make your playlists 7GB large.

  • Go to the Music tab and select the first three of your playlists.

  • And sync--the storage bar should look full.

  • Now uncheck that playlist and check the second playlist to sync.

  • And then do the same with the third playlist. What you're doing here is a fumbling, unofficial "three-pass overwrite."

  • Now restore the iPhone again, and if you can, preferably do it from a different computer.

  • This will make most of your old data mostly unrecoverable, but it can't guarantee that every last shred is gone. For that you either need to be geeky like Jonathan or wait for some fancy software engineer to make it easier for you.

    UPDATE - June 8, 2008
    Just got a note from Jonathan Zdziarski with a still slightly geeky, but easier secure wipe. He points out that the music fill-up described above is not so great if you don't have 8 gigs of music. You could copy and rename files until you appear to have 8 gigs of music, but instead, try this.

    Jonathan has prepared a RAM disk that can be launched from the iPhone Utility Client.

    First get the iPhone Utility Client

    Download Wipe

    Follow the instructions in the read me. Essentially, you'll place the iPhone in recovery mode. Exit and re-enter iPhone Utility Client. Then you'll enter some commands to execute Wipe. It says it will destroy all data. So only do it if you mean it.

    Thanks to Jonathan for passing this along.

 

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