Did you lose your phone? Was it stolen? The good news is that you’re not the first person to experience this situation. As a result, it’s pretty easy to locate and wipe your device — even after it’s left your pocket.
Google makes locating and wiping your device quite simple. They do an excellent job of explaining the how-to’s, as well as describing what is and isn’t deleted. You can find that information here [Google support page]. A remote wipe erases the device’s internal storage, including anything stored on the SD card. Photos, email, calendar, contacts, music, and personal files will ALL be removed! There is a separate feature that allows you to remove only the Google apps data, while leaving the personal files on the device intact.
Basically, you’re associating your device with to your Google account so that you can view and control it from another computer or mobile device. It’s worth noting that your Google account will technically know where your device is at all times while it’s on. Also, if someone has access to your Google account, they can remotely wipe your phone! Consider who has access to your Google account before setting this feature up. You don’t want a scorned lover deleting all of your data!
Apple also makes it easy to find and wipe your phone. Make sure to install the “Find my iPhone” app on your device. Once it’s hooked up to your iCloud account, you’ll be able to use the app to see the location of any of your missing Apple devices that have the app installed. Details about the “Find my iPhone” app can be found on Apple’s site, here. A fun perk of Apple’s remote locate service is that you can display a message on the device, such as “This phone is stolen. The police are coming.”
Like Google, Apple allows you to remove your data from the missing device using your Apple account. If you have your important files stored in iCloud, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to transfer them to a new device.
Windows offers virtually the same solution as Google and Apple. Their instructions for remotely locating and wiping your phone can be found here.
A note on “kill switches”
California just passed a law mandating that new smartphones include a “kill switch,” which would allow a phone to be bricked, or rendered useless, remotely. The goal of this law is to deter smartphone theft by killing stolen devices. Using the kill system, users will be able to remotely shut down the device. Smartphones that have been remotely killed will not be “revived” by a simple factory reset or operating system reinstallation. While the law has been passed, there are very few specific details about how it will work. Each OEM will have the right to determine how their kill switch works, as long as it meets the standards set out by the law.
Losing a phone sucks. It sucks even more when you have a lot of sensitive or personal data on the device. Make sure that you have the proper settings enabled on your device before your device goes missing. It will make locking others out of your data a lot easier to do, and it might even help you recover your lost or stolen item.