Avast Warns Selling Used Phones May Expose Personal Info

While some iOS versions are an exception, Avast said it found plenty of personal, and saucy, content on factory-reset phones it bought on eBay. 


Days after the discovery of a "secret" Apple eBay store, a new report from Avast revealed some of the risks involved with selling used smartphones—even in instances where consumers conscientiously deleted their data.

Avast, which offers an Anti-Theft app that it said can "thoroughly" wipe and "permanently delete and overwrite all files on a device," making personal information "irretrievable," recently performed an experiment in which it purchased 20 used smartphones. The previous owners had performed factory resets, or chosen the "delete all" function on the phones—which included Samsung Galaxy S2, S3 and S4 models, as well as phones from Motorola and HTC. Still, Avast said it found plenty of personal information left behind.

Specifically, it found 40,000 photos—1,500 of which were of kids and 250 of which were nude male selfies.

Try wiping that information from your brain, and then consider that Avast also found more than 750 emails and text messages, more than 250 contact names and emails, more than 1,000 Google searches, the identities of four previous owners and one fully completed loan application.

"More than 80,000 used smartphones are for sale daily on eBay in the U.S. Along with their phones, consumers may not realize they are selling their memories and their identities," Jude McColgan, president of mobile at Avast, said in a July 8 statement.

"Images, emails and other documents deleted from phones can be exploited for identity theft, blackmail or even for stalking purposes," McColgan added, after shuddering at those selfies of "the previous owner's manhood."

As you might guess, Avast said it offers just the solution: its free Avast Anti-Theft app, which is available in the Google Play store. Anyone wanting to sell a phone, without oversharing, can download the app, configure her account online and turn on the "thorough wipe" feature—versus, it would seem, the ineffective wipe feature offered by manufacturers.

Used iPhones for Sale

For the second time in two years, Apple seems to have partnered with eBay on a "Factory Outlet eBay Store," in an effort to sell restored and unlocked iPhone handsets, AppleInsider reported July 8. The GSM-based phones (so, compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile networks) were priced between $449 and $499.

The report added that while there was no "direct language" on the storefront making clear Apple's participation, "it displays many of the hallmarks of the iPhone maker's earlier partnership with eBay to sell refurbished iPads."

Notably, the devices advertised as "exclusive to the Factory Outlet" and marked "Apple Certified" come with a full-year Apple warranty and were repackaged with a "final quality inspection performed by Apple."

Tomas Zeman, Avast mobile product manager, acknowledged that none of 20 phones Avast bought was an iPhone, and that, in general, recovering data is "much more complicated [on an iPhone] than on Android."

He added, in a statement to eWEEK, that the version of iOS is important to note.

"If [the version of iOS] does not encrypt the files, you can be somewhat successful in recovering some data using a similar technique as used for Android phones," Zeman added. But generally speaking, "iOS forensics is much harder to do than Android."

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