We love our electronic devices, but we’re also fearful of them. Our devices hold our personal stories — everything from our finances to sleeping patterns, favorite locations and even medical histories. Devices are the mirrors into our lives and because of that, many consumers are afraid to recycle them for fear that their personal data will be stolen, while others seem unaware or indifferent to their personal data when they hand their phones in to be bought or upgraded without first resetting them. The Internet of Things adds another level of concern, as personal data (sleep patterns, location tracking, contact details, etc.) is all accessible on electronic devices, leaving consumers at risk of a hacker accessing extremely personal details if that device isn’t properly cleared.
A recent study by REPIC, a compliance organization for e-waste in the U.K., found that 69 percent of consumers said they were concerned about their personal data being breached, and one-third said they were likely to hold onto old electronics because of their concern. REPIC also found that younger people, aged 16-29, were more worried about data security than people over 60.
The fear of recycling electronic devices comes from a very legitimate place. Currently, there is no government standard for clearing personal data on phones and other devices after a trade-in or recycling them. However, there are several important guidelines and voluntary certifications in place. These include NIST’s guidelines for media sanitization, R2 from Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI), and state, federal and international rules, but there are actually no specific, government-approved standards for clearing smartphones.
Most device processing companies (including all FutureDial clients) follow the guidelines to the best of their ability, and there are the occasional audits and certification renewals imposed by R2, but they don’t cover every aspect of updated mobile device clearing. Additionally, there is no federal rule for e-waste recycling and it is unclear if the Environmental Protection Agency will seek a federal mandate on e-waste outside of the regulations that extend to computer hard drives.
Now is an ideal time for device processing companies to pursue a data safety standard that can track data management and guarantee data erasure on personal electronic devices. Huge data breaches of prominent companies and sweeping regulations, like EU’s GDPR, have focused consumer attention on trust. A standard that elevates consumer trust of e-waste recycling would increase their willingness to recycle, and it could also help companies avoid fines for privacy and data protection violations.
Only 20 percent of all electronic waste was recycled in 2016, according to The Global E-Waste Monitor 2017, but almost 10,000 million pounds of e-waste was generated globally in 2017. Cell phones are composed of metal, plastics and glass, all materials that can be recycled. In addition, the production of smartphones requires precious metals such as silver, gold, platinum and copper, and those precious metals can be extracted from device logic boards similar to computer and laptop motherboards. As critical raw materials become more and more scarce, helping consumers feel more comfortable recycling their e-waste would benefit both the entire industry and the environment as well. Data can be deleted; however, devices cannot.
Electronic devices are an integral part of our lives in the 21st century and our dependency on all things connected ensures they are here to stay. Consumer concerns about the security of their personal data will continue to be a barrier to e-waste recycling until they, and smartphone manufacturers, are reassured that their personal data will be safely and completely erased by all device processors worldwide.
Thomas Rayas is SVP of Marketing & Customer Success at FutureDial.