How to Completely Wipe Your Android Smartphone Before Selling it
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
Phones are an essential aspect of everyday life. They began as communication tools with very straightforward functions, but now deliver powerful features in the palm of our hands. The evolution of phones into smartphones brought features that enabled people to do much more than just call and messages. Today, smartphones are used to store high-resolution photos, videos, games, social networking apps, and maybe apps that hold important information such as health data.
Your smartphone holds vital information that can be retrieved and used against you. If you plan to sell your smartphone, there are a few things you must do before putting it up for sale or handing it over to the new owner.
Why You Should Wipe Your Android Smartphone
Smartphones are mini-computers with expansive storage. Gone are the days when mobile phone storage was in mere megabytes. We have entered an evolution where smartphones have up to 1 terabyte of memory. The increase in storage invites all sorts of data which is not limited to photos and videos.
It would come as a surprise, but a lot of people use the native note app to store sensitive information such as passwords for social networking websites and bank accounts. It presents a huge security risk because if someone had access to your phone, they would be able to extract that data, even if you have factory reset it. It brings us to the cusp of the problem that conventional means of wiping data is not enough.
Anti-virus developer Avast ran an experiment that included 20 Android phones bought from the online marketplace website eBay. Avast was able to recover data easily with nothing but conventional data recovery software. Data recovered included photos – including of children, compromising photos of men and women, Google search data, text messages and emails, email addresses, contacts, information about previous owners, and even a loan application.
It presents an alarming picture to everyone who owns a smartphone. Anyone with sufficient knowledge can extract data off used Android phones for any ill attempt.
Phishing is a form of fraudulent practice that tricks people into giving up personal information or clicking a malicious link. A successful Phishing attempt relies on Pretexting. You can learn more about Pretexting in our blog, but to provide a brief explanation, it’s a social engineering technique that involves collecting information on a target. With such data available on used phones, malicious actors can implement techniques to lure you. Or worse, compromising photos can lead to blackmail.
Factory Reset is Not Enough
Avast also found out that simple Factory Reset is not enough to prevent data recovery. It’s a feature in Android phones that lets the user return the phone to its factory settings by wiping everything in the storage.
When you delete something using the traditional method, the system forgets the location of the data; it doesn’t actually erase the bits stored. Hence, it is possible to recover data after it has been presumably deleted. The solution to this is filling the storage with new data so that deleted data gets overwritten.
Preparing to Sell Your Phone
Once you have decided to sell the phone, there are a few things we need to do. The first step is to backup everything on the cloud. The new device will pick up the backup when you sign-in to your Google account. Each manufacturer has different menus that require different navigation instructions. The search function in Android’s setting app should point you to the option.
But, this is how it plays out for stock Android:
- Launch the Settings
- Go to System>Backup.
- Allow the phone to backup by clicking on Backup now.
Backup Photos and Videos:
- Open Google Photos
- Tap on your profile icon on the top-right corner. Go to Photo Settings >Backup & Sync.
Storing photos in their original quality requires free space on your Google Drive. If there’s only a handful of stuff you’d like to save on the cloud and don’t care about apps and settings, then it’s easier to upload on Google Drive.
Remove Google Account
Android OS implemented a security feature called Factory Reset Protection (FRP) starting with Android 5.0 Lollipop. The feature prevents anyone else from factory resetting the phone without credentials to the Google Account associated with the phone. It means that if your phone gets lost or stolen, the next person cannot wipe the phone and sell it on the market. It will be useless until the FRP lock has been removed.
To remove the FRP lock for the next owner and to ensure the Factory Reset process goes smoothly, remove your Google Account:
- Open Settings
- Go to Accounts > the account name >Remove account.
Now comes the part where your phone will delete everything stored in it; accounts, text messages, photos and videos, apps, and settings.
- Go to Settings.
- Navigate to System >Reset options >Erase all data >Reset phone.
- Enter the device PIN if it’s active.
- Confirm with Erase everything.
It will take a few minutes to wipe your phone. Once it has rebooted, set up the phone, but without using signing into your Google account or any other account. We need to put new data in the phone to overwrite the only. The easiest way is to take photos and record videos. Smartphones today can take multiple photos in burst mode. Combine that with lengthy videos.
After that, do another factory reset. Your phone should now be safe to hand over to the new user.
Data is the most precious thing today. Most users do not realize just how much data their smartphones carry, and how easy it is retrieving data even it’s presumably deleted. Certain precautions go a long way in ensuring that your data doesn’t fall under the wrong hands. Follow these practices every time you are about to sell a phone on the marketplace.