I put my hands on a lot of hardware–tablets, smartphones, laptops, desktops, servers, ebook readers, cameras, game consoles, set top boxes, and TVs to name just a few. I’ve cracked open just about every type of gadget for TechRepublic.

Sometimes manufactures or PR agencies send us loaner units, but often we purchase the devices from either a local or online retailer. It’s not uncommon for loaner devices, which are often shared between media outlets, to arrive with a previous user’s information still on the device. These are usually test accounts and not tied to any individual. I was a little surprised however, when I opened a “new” Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime this week and found it still synced to the previous owner’s Google account.

“New” tablet filled with previous owner’s data

I purchased the tablet in question from Office Depot’s online store. When I removed the device’s box from the shipping container, I thought it odd that the box wasn’t wrapped in plastic. It was also strange that the tablet itself was not covered in any type of wrapping. But, I knew the device wasn’t new, when I powered it on and the standard Android setup screen didn’t appear. Instead, I was presented with the normal device lock screen. In fact, the device wasn’t even powered off. It was just asleep.

A quick look at the device’s settings confirmed my suspicions. The previous owner’s Gmail account was still tied to the tablet and was set to automatically sync with Google.

I immediately called Office Depot and explained that they had shipped me a used tablet. To the company’s credit, the customer service agent apologized, schedule a return pick up for the following day, and shipped me a brand new unit a day later. Kudos to Office Depot.

After speaking with the agent, my only decision was what to do with the used tablet until the deliver driver picked it up. Should I just return it as is? Should I contact the previous owner? Thinking about how I would want someone to treat me, I decided to wipe the device and email the owner.

I told the owner what happened and that I wiped the device. I also wrote that I did not access his online accounts or look at any personal data on the device–other than the email address. As of this writing, I haven’t heard back.

Wipe those devices

What’s the moral of this story? Always perform a factory reset or wipe your devices BEFORE returning, selling, or giving them away. To help you protect your personal data, here are instructions for performing a factory reset on popular tablet/smartphone operating systems:

  • iOS: From one of the Home Screen, press Settings, scroll down to and tap General, and then select Reset. From the Rest screen, choose the option Erase All Content and Settings. Read the warning and tap Erase iPhone.
  • Android: From the Home screen, press the Menu button and then Settings. Select Privacy and press Factory data reset. Read the warning message, select the Erase SD card box if you want, and press the Reset phone button.
  • Windows Phone 7: Swipe or tap the arrow on the Start screen and then scroll down to and tap Settings. Scroll down to and tap About and select “reset your phone”. Read the warning message and click “yes”.