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How to dispose of old gadgets the safe, helpful way

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 13, 2016

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METRO DETROIT — The holidays are over, and many of us have already broken in those fancy new devices Santa generously slipped into our stocking.

But what about your old gadget? The laptop, tablet or smartphone you were using had a lot of information stashed inside, and it takes more than a click or a swipe to protect that data from prying eyes once you’ve ditched the device.

In fact, Ability PC in Shelby Township said there’s only one surefire way to clear information off a computer or laptop — destroy it. The owner of the computer repair center said there are too many talented hackers out there with software at their disposal designed to undo the deletions you’ve done. He offers to take a hammer to a client’s hard drive right in front of them at the shop to ensure their info is really gone for good.

Luckily, smartphones are a little simpler, according to David Joseph Dabbish, CEO of Cellular Repair Center in Farmington Hills. The company, which has several locations around metro Detroit, is always helping customers with broken phones and cracked screens. But every so often, he gets a client who wants to be sure their device is really cleared out.

How? It all depends on what you’ve got — the age-old battle of Apple versus Android.

“If it’s an Apple device, all you have to do is remove the iCloud and do a hard reset,” Dabbish explained. “You’ll want to select the one that restores the factory settings, erases all content and history of the device. It resets the phone like it’s a brand new device.”

The benefit of having the iCloud, he said, is that you can simply move your data from one device to another, because the data is stored remotely and can be accessed by any other Apple device. When you’re upgrading to a new Apple gadget, the hard reset on the old device will erase your iCloud credentials, so your info is safe from other users of that device, and you can access the info from your new device.

Androids are similarly easy to reset, though the process could differ from brand to brand. You can always do a quick Google search for instructions, Dabbish said, or just head to your favorite wireless carrier or repair shop and let them do the deed for you.

“We’re complete service centers, so if you come into any of our stores, you can just ask any member of the staff to do a hard reset. What I usually do is find the hard reset option, but I’ll let the customer press the button to erase all the information,” he said.

And with smartphones, there’s really no software — yet — for hackers to utilize to retrieve the data you’ve erased. There are ways it can be done, Dabbish said, like by law enforcement for purposes of national security, but that’s pretty rare.

Once the phone is wiped clean, you’re free to do just about anything with it. You can properly dispose of it at a specialized recycling center, or even head to the Web and see if you can turn a couple of bucks.

“You can sell it on the Internet,” Dabbish said. “The first thing people always do is check out the market value for the device; eBay and Amazon will give you a good idea of the going price, and you can sell it there, or you can go to stores like us. We’ll purchase it to make a profit, but we usually lowball because we’re not in need of the item. It sits on the shelf until someone comes in looking for that device.”

There’s also the option to donate phones to a good cause — and there are plenty. HAVEN of Oakland County collects used wireless phones, batteries, chargers and accessories in any condition at its new location, 801 Vanguard Drive in Pontiac, or at HopeLine locations in Verizon Wireless stores. The phones are used by HAVEN’s clients trying to escape domestic abuse situations.

“These phones serve as a vital link to support services and provide a safe line of communication to family, loved ones and employers,” Stephanie Holland, development manager for HAVEN, said in an email.

There’s also the option of donating that phone, tablet, iPod or other handy device to Cell Phones for Soldiers, which sends phones overseas to troops so they can stay connected to their families.

The Oakland Literacy Council started collecting items for Cell Phones for Soldiers about a year and a half ago. The council’s board president, Judy Lindstrom, said they’ve already had great success with the effort.

“We thought there really was a direct correlation with the work that we do to Cell Phones for Soldiers. So many of the people we work with come from other countries, and the only way they have to connect to their family is with a cellphone or computer. A lot of (our clients) are getting out of Third World countries because of our servicemen,” Lindstrom said. “This is really just our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the servicemen, and that we understand the need to connect — to keep up that cadence in their life and feel like they’re a part of their families.”

To donate to Cell Phones for Soldiers via the Oakland Literacy Council, drop electronic items off at the OLC’s office Mondays-Thursdays at 2550 S. Telegraph Road, Suite 103, in Bloomfield Hills. You can also learn more at