Dangers of Keeping Personal Info on Your Cell Phone

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 30, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, GUEST HOST: Well, lots of us are glued to our cell phones and BlackBerries. Well, count me amongst them. Some of us store personal information about our entire lives in them. But you might want to be careful about what you put in them if you're planning to upgrade that phone one day.

Software expert Nick Magliato is with me now, chief executive officer of Trust Digital. That's quite a title, Nick.

Nick, what are some of the risks of selling your portable electronic devices?

NICK MAGLIATO, TRUST DIGITAL CEO: Well, Kimberly, thanks for having me on tonight. The risks of selling the phones or disposing of the phones after you've used them for a while really span the gambit of questions.

There are phones out there that can do a lot of functions. There are phones out there that can do a few functions. But every one of those phones has just a lot of data on it about your personal life, even your professional life.

Right, we all use cell phones today, and they're really a tool that's become part of our mainstream use. And with that new responsibility of owning that phone, you know, you've got to think about the data you're putting on that phone and storing there.

GUILFOYLE: All right, what are you finding? Apparently you have some phones with you today. And what kind of information is in there?

MAGLIATO: Yes, it's various kinds of phones. I mean, there's all kinds of information, simple things like phone numbers and calendars, all the way up to customer contracts and billing information, pharmaceutical information, health care information on phones. It's really pretty dynamic as to how people have started to really integrate phone usage into their life.

And since phones have really become part of our mainstay, you know, we like to have the newest, coolest, latest phone. And so, every time you think about upgrading to a new phone, you know, you want to make sure that old phone and all of its information that's on it is really gone before you start to give that phone to a friend, or family member, or a charity, or even try to sell it on an auction site, for example.

GUILFOYLE: All right. Well, how do you do it? How do you protect yourself? I hoard my phones upstairs in my office. I don't give any of them back or give them away.

MAGLIATO: Yes, well, there's a couple of ways to do it. You know, first, you could run it over with a car or sink it in water. That might certainly...

GUILFOYLE: Run it over, OK. That's a little aggressive, but...

MAGLIATO: That might certainly destroy some of the information on it, but it's fine.

No, what people typically do in this case is they follow kind of a prescribed procedure to reset the phone. And on some phones, that does a great job of clearing off the data. On other phones, it doesn't. And it's really tough for consumers to know whether or not the data on that phone has been eliminated.

And so my recommendation here to people that are thinking about disposing of a phone is either take it back to the place they bought it, their cell phone store, and say: "Hey, I'm thinking of upgrading my phone. I'd like to sell this phone or give it away. Could you help me make sure the data is no longer on it?"

Or if you work for a company that's got a technical team that knows about phones and the information that's on them, certainly go see your technical team at work and they'll help you out.

GUILFOYLE: All right. And there was a little piece in the Associated Press about someone getting in a little bit of trouble with some — there you go. What do you know about this?

MAGLIATO: Well, you know, again, we were able to, you know, in an inadvertent study that we started, we were able to recreate the lives of 10 people by buying these phones off of eBay. And so we did. We saw a lot of personal information.

One happened to be a bunch of instant messages about a fellow that were somewhat revealing, but it was also very much of a life history of a person, both their personal data and all their corporate data, that they certainly wouldn't want to auction on eBay.

GUILFOYLE: All right, Nick. Don't ever go through my phone, buddy. Do the right thing. Thanks.

MAGLIATO: Hey, thanks for having me.

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