There’s only one thing worse than losing your Android phone, and that’s losing your Android phone when there’s lots of personal stuff on it. If the thought of somebody else accessing your apps, your email or your secret plans for world domination scares you silly, we have the solution. Here’s how to remotely delete Android phone data and remotely wipe Android.
Delete your data while you’ve still got your phone
There’s a setting you need to enable if you want the ability to remotely wipe your phone, and the time to switch that on is when your phone isn’t missing. It should be enabled by default, but it’s never a bad idea to check to make sure.
The toggle you want lives in Google Settings > Security > Android Device Manager. Look for “Allow remote lock and erase” and make sure it’s switched on.
There’s a second toggle that needs to be enabled too, and it’s also in the Android Device Manager screen: it’s Remotely Locate This Device, and again it should be on. If these settings aren’t enabled, then Device Manager won’t be able to locate your device.
Android Device Manager works for tablets as well, but if you have multiple user accounts, only the tablet ''owner'' can turn on the Android Device Manager features (or turn them off again).
While you’re thinking about security, it’s a good idea to take a few more precautions right now: don’t store anything sensitive on microSD cards (remote wiping can’t erase them), make sure you’ve got a decent lock code or pattern, and consider investing in an app such as AirDroid or Lookout. Both apps offer remote wipe features, but they can also transfer crucial data before pulling the plug.
How remotely wipe your Android phone
Oh no! Your phone’s gone! It’s time for action, and by action we mean Android Device Manager. You can access Android Device Manager in two ways: via the Android Device Manager app on another Android device, or via the Android Device Manager website.
Once you’ve launched the app or site and logged in, Android Device Manager will attempt to locate your missing device. If it’s on and can get a signal, you’ll see the location on a map; you’ll also see three options: ring it, lock it or remotely wipe it. If the device isn’t on or in an area where it can get a signal, Android Device Manager will report its location when it comes online and connects to a Wi-Fi or cellular network.
We’d strongly recommend trying the less-serious options in Android Device Manager before you go nuclear and delete everything: in our experience, lost phones are often just mislaid rather than permanently missing or stolen. To rule that out, use the Android Device Manager to make the phone ring loudly for five full minutes. This enables you to find your phone if it’s fallen onto the floor of your car or been hidden in a slipper by one of your children.
Change the lock screen first
There’s a second non-nuclear option available to you here: changing the lock screen so that when the phone is next switched on, your message is displayed. “GIVE ME MY PHONE BACK” is likely to be counter productive, but a “please call me” message, possibly backed with a modest reward, might just work.
Tried that? Still no joy? Okay. It’s time to take the nuclear option and destroy your data.
Passing the point of no return
If you choose the erase option, you can remotely wipe your phone or tablet. That’s the same as performing a full factory reset, so it’ll wipe all of your settings, your music, your photos and your apps (but not anything on the SD card, if your phone has one). As with locking, if the missing phone is off then selecting this option will remotely wipe it once it comes back online.
If you’re worried enough to take this option, you should also go into your Google Account and revoke access for your missing phone. We’d also recommend changing any passwords to your online services too. The likelihood of a lost phone leading to baddies accessing all your stuff is very remote, but it doesn’t take long to remove that likelihood altogether.
How to remotely delete Android phone data if Android Device Manager can’t connect
Android Device Manager doesn’t track your phone’s location history, but Google Maps does - or at least, it does if you haven’t turned that feature off in your Google Account. You can sometimes discover where your missing phone has been by visiting the Location History page and checking the timestamps. It won’t necessarily tell you where your phone is, but it can tell you where it’s been.
Another option is to use an app such as Android Lost, which works well on older Android devices. The app and website look terrible but work terribly well, although once again the device needs to be online via the cellular network or Wi-Fi for it to work.
Have you used Android Device Manager, AirDroid or Lookout to successfully find or wipe a lost phone? Let us know in the comments.