How big is the risk of data robbery in the recycling process?

I have often heard about the (unofficial?) recycling methods in Africa with a high risk for health, safety and environment. Is there any relation with “European” recycling processes? Are european electronics recycled elsewhere within official recycling flows? And if so, what is then the risk of data robbery? Is there any market for old data on old phone’s memory chips in the world? Even sounding a bit paranoid, I really wonder how creative are people to get money out of this.
By the way, I am not alone with this question. Many people are holding their old phones for exactly this reason: Being not 100% sure about their data when recycling phones.


If by old phone someone means, still working, they can reset and loose all data.

Another option is to install a new Operating system and then create a blank/dark video to ensure overwriting all memory.

If the phone doesn’t work it is always possible to take the the phone apart, recycle the battery, smash the chip with a hammer then recycle the waste as electronics


There is post on this forum from Fairphone explaning what to do to erase all data. Look here


Regarding the initial question of the thread.
If one does recycle via Fairphone or another company like that; i.e. a certified and controlled recycling process:
I guess the risk of data robbery is negligible.
If one drops the phone in an open box in the supermarket or in a random shop, the risk might be higher.
In any case it is a good idea to destroy data before dropping the phone, though I really would sleep well, sending my phone to the fairphone recycling program without doing more than simply deleting the data/resetting the phone.


Hi amoun,
as my phones are mostly VERY old, only your last option is possible. For my 15 old phones, this would be quite time-consuming. I guess, it is not worth to do it as the risk seems to be very low.
However, is risk of data robbery really low? Example: I would accept, if 1 of 1’000 phones comes in criminal hands. But difficult to accept when it might be 1 of 100.

Hi Lidwien,
it might be good to have some sentences in the referred wiki about phones that are “dead”/cannot be started. What is then the risk of data robbery and what could people do to be 100% sure? For example physically destroying the chip!?

The risk is zero IMHO. I have never read or heard about any case of data theft from old phones during recycling (and I read a lot).

There is always a minimum risk that anything deleted and overwritten with a black video in the internal memory, 00000000000000000 etc. can still be restored. That is why “top secret” hardware gets shredderd to be absolutley sure. But if you’re not a celebrity / big company etc. it will probably not be worth the effort for someone.

Many thanks for your replies. I have learnt a lot and I am getting less pessimistic. Great!

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