Protect Your Data When You Replace Your Smartphone

11 February 2016
With roughly 15 million smartphones in Australia, and around half of us giving away or getting rid of our phone when it dies, it’s time to think about the security of your digital identity. Follow these tips to protect your data.

How many mobile phones are there in Australia?

There were roughly 15 million smartphones in use in Australia in 2015, Deloitte reports. 79-80% of us have one, compared to 81% in 2014.

The two rival warlords fighting for the smartphone kingdom, Apple and Samsung, have conquered and claimed 73% of the Australian smartphone market between them (Deloitte, 2015). Apple’s lead in the race is growing, with their dominance in the under-45 demographic giving them 41% market share compared to Samsung’s 32%. What’s more, our Canstar Blue survey of smartphone models found that Apple customers were the most satisfied with their smartphone.

As for what plan we want for our phones, Australian consumers surveyed by Canstar Blue gave our Most Satisfied Customers Award to iiNet as their mobile phone plan provider of choice. AllPhones won out as consumers’ preferred mobile phone retailer.

In June 2015, the ACMA reported 80% of Australian teens now have their own smartphone, compared to just 23% in 2011.

Even those who don’t have a smartphone may have more than one mobile phone, with an estimated 31 million active mobile phone accounts in Australia in June 2014 (ACMA).

How often do we change phones?

We are trading in our old mobile phones more and more often, with 34% saying they expect to have to replace their current phone within a year (Deloitte, 2015).

J.C. Twining, owner of Adelaide-based mobile phone repair company Axiom Communications, says 80% of the repairs he makes are for broken glass caused by dropping a phone.

Twining has been fixing phones for 20 years and says fading batteries are the new unexpected repair need. Customers assume that – like the old nickel-based batteries – they need to let it go flat before recharging, unintentionally draining the lithium cells.

But the death of our mobile is usually not all our fault. We may want to keep our phones for longer, buying heavy-duty cases and other protective accessories, but we can’t combat built-in obsolescence just by being careful.

University of Sydney Professor of Media and Communications, Gerard Goggin, says manufacturers are using cheaper components and different plastics in their phone handsets in order to create a “quick turnover” of products.

Twining says manufacturers are going for thinness at the expense of product quality. “If they made phones half a centimetre thicker, we’d get three times the battery life. If the glass was just a little thicker it would have much more impact resistance.”

With 2G “Nanna phones” living on borrowed time, many will be forced to upgrade their smartphone in 2016 even if their handset is fine.

What to do with your old phone

The Deloitte survey found that while 48% of people keep their old phone, many give it away or sell it:

  • Share or give to someone else: 27%
  • Bin or recycle: 15%
  • Sold it: 8%
  • Lost it: 2%

We’re lagging behind when it comes to making money off our old devices – in Singapore, 26% sell their old phone; and in 20% in the UK and Japan do the same.

We’re doing better when it comes to recycling our mobile phone, according to the MobileMuster recycling program, with phones in landfill dropping from 9% to 2% in 2015.

But we could still do more about responsibly regifting or reusing mobile phones, according to Clean Up Australia. It’s easy as pie to request a recycling/reusing postal satchel, then post your old phone to Clean Up Australia for free thanks to Australia Post.

The most important thing is to make your old phone digitally safe before disposing of it, so that you’re not giving away more than just the handset.

Safety tips for replacing your old phone

We download 340,000 terabytes of data per month as a nation, and that number is growing (Deloitte). 4G subscriptions have jumped 52% since 2014 and 53% say their 4G data is faster than Wi-Fi.

Even if all you’re using data or Wi-Fi for is watching funny cat videos on YouTube, a hacker may still steal your email address and contact list from that browser app data if you haven’t wiped it from your old phone.

One amazing study by the ABC showed just how much metadata could be gleaned about journalist Will Ockenden’s life simply from movements between cell towers. The ABC then surveyed readers about what information they now knew about Will – and the results were scarily accurate.

Never fear – we have some solid tips for keeping your online identity safe when you transfer your old phone to someone else.

Internet banking data

ACMA reports that 76% of mobile-only internet users do all their banking on their smartphone (2014). So here’s what you need to do to clear your internet banking data from your phone:

  • Wipe all text messages to make sure you’ve deleted all messages received from your bank.
  • Never store banking PINs or passwords on your phone.
  • When you get your new phone, make your first call to your bank – and tell them your new mobile number, so you can still get SMS messages to authenticate transactions.
  • Always log out of your internet banking app when you’re done.
  • Never use public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks for your internet banking. (In 2015, the ACMA reported 36% of teens access the internet via wireless hotspots such as public Wi-Fi networks.)

M-commerce (online shopping) browser data

Deloitte found that 40% of smartphone users browse online shopping websites on their mobile at least once a week (2015).

Younger people are more comfortable with it, with 80% of 18-24 year olds shopping online on their mobile. But even in the Baby Boomers’ generation of over-55s, 37% use their mobile phone for shopping.

Here’s what to do before passing your phone on:

  • Clear your browser’s cache. Some mobiles store copies of web pages that contain your payment or shipping information.

Then, on your new phone:

  • In your phone settings, make sure your mobile doesn’t automatically save and store passwords or credit card numbers.
  • Never click ‘Save credit card details for later’ on a shopping website.
  • Never click the ‘Keep me signed in’ option when logging into shopping websites.
  • Always log out of shopping websites when you’re finished browsing or ordering.
  • Don?t set up one-click ordering on your new phone.
  • Choose passwords for shopping website accounts that are not easy for anyone else to guess… like your birthday or the name of your pet.

payWave apps on your phone

Mobile phone technology has grown to the point where people can use their online banking app at the check-out like they would use their debit card or credit card for a payWave or PayPass transaction. Other specialist payment apps have also made a splash, such as Apple Pay, Samsung’s Tap & Pay, and Google’s Android Pay.

However, Deloitte found that people are losing enthusiasm for this technology now that they’ve tried it out. In 2015, just 24% said they would use a mobile solution for paying instead of a bank card, compared to 40% in 2014.

54% see no benefit in time or technology when using a payment app instead of PayPassing a bank card. A significant 43% said they do not think the security on a mobile phone is up to scratch for “tap and go” transactions.

To be safe, if you’ve downloaded any payment or banking apps, these must be deleted before trading in your phone.

Social media apps and data

79% of smartphone users aged 18-24 use social media on their phones regularly, on average checking their phones 56 times per day (Deloitte). In general, 54% of us check our phone more than 10 times per day.

When you trade in your phone, make sure you have deleted all social media apps and data from the device. The easiest way to do this is to do a Factory Reset on your old phone, usually available through the settings menu.


Who do you think is taking the most selfies? This one will surprise you.

Deloitte found 95% of the 65-75-year-old grannies with smartphones use them to take photos. 1 in 3 take photos weekly, and 18% post photos and tag them on social media.

Your photos can be used in various forms of identity theft, so make sure you download them to your computer or your new phone and wipe them from your old phone before making the transition.

Choose your bank, choose your banking app

Around 4 out of 5 of the online banking platforms we research and rate at Canstar have a mobile banking app for your smartphone. And CommBank even has a mobile banking app for your smartwatch.

So it’s easier than ever before to do your online banking on your smartphone. Just make sure you choose an online banking platform with the best security features around, and get your phone safely back to a clean slate before passing it on.

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