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Make your mobile phone valueless

Make your mobile phone valueless

davidpr.com online reputation security

Since I started helping people with online reputation issues, I have heard some amazing tales but few as educational as this one.  A lady called me up with an awful problem.  Her phone had been stolen from her locker at her job and now, yes you may have already guessed it, inappropriate pictures of her were now on the Internet.  She made three mistakes, all preventable.  Yet, the main lesson is that we all need to make our mobile phones valueless.

First, what the girl did wrong.  Taking naked pictures of oneself — duh!  This one confounds me but just continues-on in our society.  We need to teach our sons and daughters not to do this, and also teach them not to ask it of other people.  In addition, this young lady failed herself in two other technical categories.  She didn’t enable the passcode feature on her phone, and she didn’t set up the Find My iPhone/remote data-erasing features.  In her case, three strikes equaled revenge porn.

Sadly, we can buy purchase protection to replace a lost or stolen phone, but no such insurance exists for a damaged reputation.

On to my main point, if you truly want to protect yourself from the many perils of a lost or stolen phone, you need to have everything of value backed up, preferably automatically.  If you lose possession of your phone, the physical value of your phone should be the only concern you have.   Here’s how you do it, and the cloud service providers are going to love me.

Email.  Many of us transact most of our business through e-mail, and we would be lost if a month’s worth or even a few day’s worth of e-mails were permanently lost.  Prevent this by using an e-mail platform that saves all of your e-mails in the cloud such as a virtual exchange server or even G-mail which enables you to check e-mail from multiple devices.  When using this type of service, if you change your password and/or wipe your phone, then no one can access your e-mail except you.

Pictures and music.  Photos document life’s moments and you certainly don’t want to lose your memories if your phone ends up in the ocean (or a pitcher of margaritas, but that’s another story.)  The same is true for your music.  Set up your phone to automatically back it up to the cloud, so you have copies without even thinking about it.

Notes and other stuff.  If you take a lot of notes on your phone, make sure they are backed up or use one of the cloud-based note services like Evernote.   If your phone disappears, then all you need to do is change your password and your notes are safe.

Set up the passcode on your phone.  I will admit that I didn’t use this feature initially on my iPhone but now it is a necessity.  It requires you to enter a 4-digit code to access your phone.  You can set it so that it is required each time you open it or after your phone has been idled for a set amount of time, up to one hour.   There are 10,000 possible codes so it is not easily hacked, unless you choose the lazy path and use 1234, 0000 or your birth year.  Five years ago, Informationweek published a piece on this which is still relevant.  Use a passcode and try to make it unique.

Set your passcode.  Always.
Set your passcode. Always.

Be prepared to wipe.  This is the heart of the “make it valueless” proposition.  Essentially, you should be prepared to wipe your phone of all its information at any time.  All of your data and anything important should be backed up to the cloud so that if your phone is lost or stolen, your information won’t be compromised.  Both Apple and Android phones offer this, but you have to set it up.  In addition, I recommend that you enable the setting on your iPhone to automatically wipe it if the passcode is entered incorrectly after 10 attempts.

Set your phone to wipe after 10 incorrect attempts.
Set your phone to wipe after 10 incorrect attempts.

Yes, I know that you may forget your code or one of your friends may mess with you and accidentally wipe your phone, but more than likely this feature could help you more than it could harm you.  It’s much easier to deal with a lost phone than lost personal data.

Google recently announced plans to de-list revenge porn sites, which is a great step toward a more-civilized society, but believe me, no one wants to deal with compromised or lost data, particularly when it is easily preventable.

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  1. You are of course absolutely correct in all of your points about how to make your mobile phone so bulletproof that losing it would give you only the mildest inconvenience. But it begs the question: why do so many of us trust to luck, when we know we ought to be protecting our property against theft or accidental loss? Quite frankly, if so many smartphone-based services weren’t cloud-enabled automatically, the vast majority of owners would probably not bother. Not because it’s difficult, not because it’s expensive, but simply because – until the worst happens – we have a tendency to think “oh, it’ll probably be alright”. And then of course, when it’s too late, like a reformed alcoholic who has learned the hard way and has the battle scars to prove it, we suddenly become the one who lectures friends and family about the dangers of not backing up our data.

    What’s so interesting is the chill that goes down my spine when I think about your suggestion of being able to wipe all the data on my phone, just on a whim. Yes, it makes sense, but there’s that nagging doubt at the back of my mind that maybe there’s something I forgot. Maybe I’ll only discover after it’s too late that a crucial bit of data was lost forever. And what about those Angry Birds high scores, eh? They’ll be gone for good.

    A similar paranoid concern is putting too much trust in any particular cloud service provider. If all of your data is entrusted to Google, Apple, Microsoft or Dropbbox, what happens if they suddenly pull the plug? There’s no sign of Google withdrawing Gmail any time soon but in the future the marketplace may have shifted unrecognisably and because Google is giving its services away for free, they can of course withdraw them any time. And even if they don’t, it’s always possible someone might hack into my account and close it down, or use it to commit some mischief that results in it being closed down. And it’s not entirely implausible that the two things – someone stealing your phone and someone hijacking your identity and misusing your account – would happen simultaneously.

    Incidentally, the lady “with an awful problem” might be provided with some consolation – if only by knowing that she’s not alone – from Jon Ronson’s informative and entertaining So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed in which he tracks down a number of people who have done or said very silly and regrettable things online, many of whom you might think entirely deserve the public shaming that earned them their place in the book.

    Finally, congratulations on an intriguing blog post title, although I’m going to have to challenge you to come up with a credible justification for it. Yes, the device might have no added value, in the sense that it’s worth no more than an identical replacement, but it’s not valueless, is it? It would still fetch a fair price at a dodgy pawn shop. To make your mobile phone truly valueless, you need to deliberately vandalise your own property by splashing gloss paint all over it and carving your initials in the back. I’ve seen similar sacrilege exacted against high-value bicycles in big city centres where the owner has clearly lost one bike too many and has decided that no one is going to nick a £3,000 Boardman with pink paint all over the frame. Oh, the lengths we go to protect ourselves from the threat of theft.

    Susan Calvin
    Super-sleuthing forensic mobile data detective

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Susan. It is very interesting indeed. I agree that a wiped phone is not valueless, but I think you understand my point. I speak with people all the time who would instantly pay the replacement cost of their mobile phone if that would make their online problem disappear. Perhaps “valueless” should have been in quotes…

      Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  2. Very interesting. We take so much for granted. Thank you for sharing your “fixes”.


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