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Warning: Wiping Android phones doesn’t actually delete personal data (here’s what to do about it)

Published Jul 9th, 2014 9:30AM EDT
Android Security
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

Have you sold your used Android phones in the past when upgrading to a new smartphone? Were you safe, making sure to reset the phones and wipe them of all your personal data first? Bad news, Android users: A new study has revealed that using Google’s reset function in Android doesn’t actually delete your personal data.

SEE ALSO: Here’s how to give your Android phone a huge speed boost

Computer and mobile security firm Avast recently conducted a study in which it purchased 20 used smartphones online. The devices had been wiped using Android’s in-built reset mechanism, but Avast was still able to recover private photos, contacts, owner identities and more using common tools that any hacker might posses.

As is the case with all computers, basic delete functions only mark the storage used by files as space that may now be overwritten. Until new data is stored in its place, the “deleted” files can still be recovered.

According to Avast, the company was able to recover:

  • More than 40,000 stored photos
  • More than 1,500 family photos of children
  • More than 750 photos of women in various stages of undress
  • More than 250 photos of male nude selfies
  • More than 1,000 Google searches
  • More than 750 emails and text messages
  • More than 250 contact names and email addresses
  • Four previous owners’ identities
  • One completed loan application

“The amount of personal data we retrieved from the phones was astounding. We found everything from a filled-out loan form to more than 250 nude selfies,” said Avast’s President of Mobile, Jude McColgan. “We purchased a variety of Android devices from sellers across the U.S. and used readily available recovery software to dig up personal information that was previously on the phones. The take-away is that even deleted data on your used phone can be recovered unless you completely overwrite it.”

Are you getting ready to sell your old Android phone and upgrade? In order to protect yourself and to prevent all those naked selfies from hitting the Web, install Avast’s free anti-theft tool and use the thorough wipe feature, which deletes and overwrites all of your personal data.

Download Avast! Anti-Theft

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content.

Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment. His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.