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How To Remote Wipe Your Personal Data on an Android Phone

By Ryan Whitwam

Better safe than sorry when it comes to your data integrity.

Losing your phone is no laughing matter. Not only is it going to be expensive to replace, but the data you have on it could be invaluable to certain shady characters. But it’s not just the criminal element you have to worry about. A recent study from Symantec showed that the finders of lost phones are perfectly happy to help themselves to any and all data they can get their hands on.

In the event that your lost device looks to be gone forever, you might need to take drastic action. No one wants to remote wipe a phone, thus eliminating any hope of getting it back, but sometimes your data privacy takes precedent. Let’s talk about the best ways to get that done on Android.

Stock options are lacking

If you got your device from a corporate IT department, check with those folks to see if they installed any software for this eventuality. Stock Android does not include a remote wipe feature, but Motorola has built many business-friendly devices that do. If your device was enforcing a passcode, it is highly possible that IT can nuke it for you.

Most users aren’t going to be in this boat, though. While you can’t remote wipe most Android devices by default, there are some reliable measures you can take. Always use a pattern or password for starters. On Android 3.0 and higher devices, you can use the stock device encryption setting to require a passcode to start the device and also stop data harvesting.

There are a number of solid remote wipe products in the Play Store, but each one will take some setup. If you don’t have one installed ahead of time, there’s nothing you can do. Best to hope your device was found by someone honest enough to return it unmolested.

SeekDroid

The first app to go over is an old favorite, SeekDroid. This app has a ton of features for tracking down a lost phone, but let’s get right down to the doomsday scenario. When you install the app, you will have to launch it to set up an account; it will also prompt you to set it as a device administrator. This is necessary for the remote wipe function. You will notice that it specifically declares that it needs access to factory reset permissions.

Once you’re in the app, make sure to check the boxes to enable phone and SD card wipe. This system will use a push intent from the SeekDroid servers to initiate a device wipe when you call for one on the SeekDroid site. This is fast and reliable when the missing device has data connectivity. If not, SeekDroid still has you covered.

On the first app start up, you will be asked to pick a SMS PIN. A little further down the list of settings you will see SMS wipe as an option. Enable this, and you can wipe the device by sending a text message saying “SMS[PIN] wipe.” This is definitely handy for those times when data is spotty and you have to be absolutely sure your data is toast.

SeekDroid runs $2.99 in the Play Store, and unlike some of the competition, there is no monthly fee for remote wipe. SeekDroid does have paid plans for users with multiple phones, or those that need some advanced features like long-term location tracking. But to protect your data, all you need to do is buy the app.

Cerberus

This is a relatively new security app on Android, but it’s already making a name for itself. Like SeekDroid, Cerberus will need to be set as a device administrator for the wipe features to work. Once you’ve logged in, you'll just want to make sure the wipe device and wipe SD card options are checked.

On the Cerberus site, you get a simple interface that has all the usual tracking and locking features. As for device wipe, this app can blank both the internal and removable memory. Just open the drop down, and wipe the SD card first, then the device memory. You should do it in this order because once the device is wiped, the phone is restarted in a factory-new state.

We’ve tested Cerberus’ push command system, and found it to be very fast. There is also an SMS command system, and the service signup email is kind enough to include a cheatsheet of common commands. To remote wipe with a text, send a message reading “cerberus [password] wipesd,” then, “cerberus [password] wipe.”

Cerberus is free for one week, then you have to buy a license for €2.99. This is a lifetime license to as many as five phones per account, but it’s a PayPal transaction, not in the Play Store or in-app purcahse.

AndroidLost

There is one last app you should consider for nuking your phone remotely. AndroidLost is a newer app, and it takes a more minimalistic approach to securing your phone. When you open the app, it will associate with your Google account automatically. Just hit the button to add the app as a device administrator, then log in on the website. You will have to grant access to AndroidLost through Google apps, but this is a legitimate process.

The UI is mostly text-based with the usual tracking and lock options. To wipe your device, head to the security tab and scroll down to the bottom. You can erase the internal storage, SD card, or both. This happens with push intents only, so no data connection means no way to wipe the device.

We like that AndroidLost is simple to set up, and doesn’t require any account to be made. The lack of SMS wipe is potentially problematic, though. While the other apps we’ve covered are paid, AndroidLost is free. You can’t argue with that.

The idea of pulling the trigger and obliterating your personal data might be tough to come to terms with, but it’s better than the alternative. Make sure you have local backups, make use of the cloud, search thoroughly before wiping your phone, and all will be well. Do you have a security app on your phone ready to delete everything in the case of loss?