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Does wiping your old Android phone’s data truly protect your privacy?

In a blatantly self-serving new 'study', Avast has found it is very easy to retrieve personal data from a phone that is merely 'wiped' before selling. Is this enough to protect your phone?
July 8, 2014
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A new report from Avast cautions us to think carefully about how protected our data is before we resell our smartphones and tablets. According to their research, out of the 20 used phones that the anti-virus company purchased from Ebay, they were able to recover 40,000 photos (nude pics, too), 750 emails and texts, 250 contacts, the identity of four of the phone’s past owners, a nearly complete loan application and a lot more.

It’s important to note that all of these phones were wiped using the default method in Android. So does that mean that Android is somehow inferior when it comes to wiping data? While the obviously self-serving ‘study’ from Avast seems to suggest that this is the case and that using their software wiping methods is the answer, honestly the retrievability of wiped files this is no secret for many of us nerd-types.

out of the 20 used phones that the anti-virus company purchased from Ebay, they were able to recover 40,000 photos and so much more

The reality is that wiping any device with memory doesn’t truly delete the content, instead it deletes pointers to the files wiped and marks the space as available for over-writing. Until the space is fully overwritten with new files and apps, it is possible to retrieve the information using special (though fairly easy to come by) computer software. Again,this doesn’t apply only to Android, but to other mobile devices and even personal computers.

So what’s the solution? While Avast and many other security companies will tell you that using their advanced wiping software is the best solution, there are many other ways to handle the situation. One way is to simply encrypt your device before wiping it, the reason being that all encrypted data that is ‘hiding’ in your phone after the wipe would still be encrypted and unindexed. Even then it is still possible to ‘hack’ into these files, but it makes life much more difficult. There are likely more complicated methods involving computer software and other tricks, though it’s up to you as to whether or not it’s worth the trouble.

The big takeaway here is that yes, wiping your phone before selling doesn’t necessarily protect your privacy — even though it should be more than enough in most situations. Here’s a question for our readers, what extra security measures do you take before selling your phone or tablet? Do you think wiping with 3rd party security software is a good idea or completely unnecessary?