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July 8th, 2014

Tens of thousands of Americans sell themselves online every day

The Internet has become a virtual flea market, with online consumer-to-consumer sites like Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist selling millions of products every day. Used smartphones are a popular sales item on eBay – more than 80,000 people list their phones for sale each day. It seems like a smart way to make some extra money, but AVAST has found out that many fail to protect their identity in the process. 

AVAST recovers an abundance of personal data from used smartphones 

Most sellers delete all of their personal data prior to selling their used devices… or so they think. We purchased 20 used Android phones off eBay and used simple and easily available recovery software to restore deleted files. The amount of data we were able to retrieve was astonishing and proves that simply deleting is not enough.

Our analysts found the following:

  • More than 40,000 stored photosUsed Smartphones for Sale
  • More than 1,500 family photos of children
  • More than 750 photos of women in various stages of undress
  • More than 250 selfies of what appear to be the previous owner’s manhood
  • 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

One phone even had a competitor’s security software installed, but unfortunately it did not help the former owner as it revealed the most personal information out of all the phones we analyzed. 

No one cares about my old photos, messages and Google searches, right?

Wrong! As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Now add private Facebook messages that include geo-location, Google searches for open job positions in a specific field, media files, and phone contacts. Put all of these pieces together to complete the puzzle and you have a clear picture of who the former smartphone owner was. Stalkers, enemies, and thieves can abuse personal data to stalk, blackmail and steal people’s identities. They can use this information to watch people’s every move, exploit their strange fetishes, open credit cards in their name, or even continue what they started by further selling their personal information online. 

How to permanently delete and overwrite data from your Android phone 

Deleting files from your Android phone before selling it or giving it away is not enough. You need to overwrite your files, making them irretrievable. To do so, install avast! Anti-Theft from the Google Play Store for free. Once you have the app installed, turn on the “thorough wipe” feature within the app. You will then need to create a my.avast account to connect to the phone (this allows users to remotely wipe their phones in theft cases as well). The final step is to wipe the phone clean, which will delete and overwrite all of your personal data. 

AVAST Used Smartphone Infographic

Read about our investigation:

Android Forensics, Part 1: How we recovered (supposedly) erased data

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