Think when you wipe your smart phone of data that it is deleted? Avast Software says think again.

Wiping cellphones

The developer and marketer of device-side security applications says vast warehouses of personal data presumably “wiped” from the phone’s storage is in fact recoverable. The security firm said it could recover photos, emails, chats and other personal data from cell phones after they had been “wiped” clean and sold on the second hand market.

Avast can recover data after wiping the cell phone

According to an article published in Information Week, Avast bought 20 different Android smartphones from eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY) where previous owners performed a “wipe,” or factory reset, deleting all the content from the phones before selling them. The factory reset option claims to erase everything from the phone and memory card, a claim in dispute. Avast said they used commercially available recovery software to uncover personal information.

Avast was able to bring to life 40,000 photos that included 750 of women in various stages of naked poses along with 250 male nudes, all from just 20 phones. Avast also recovered 1,000 Google searches, 750 emails and text messages, and 250 contact names and email addresses, but Avast only managed to identify four of the 20 previous owners.

Amount of data retrieved after wiping

“The amount of personal data we retrieved from the phones was astounding. We found everything from a filled-out loan form [to] selfies of what appear to be the previous owner,” Avast’s Jude McColgan was quoted as saying in the report.

McColgan notes that selling a phone may be good for garnering a few extra dollars, but forget about your privacy. “Along with their phones, consumers may not realize they are selling their memories and their identities. Images, emails, and other documents deleted from phones can be exploited for identity theft, blackmail, or even stalking purposes,” said McColgan.

Avast has a motivation in this fight. They sell an application that installs on Android and wipes everything on the device and then deletes it.  Information Week offered additional solutions available in Google’s Play Store providing similar services, including apps from Trend Micro, Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky, BitDefender, and LookOut Mobile. Another option is to encrypt the device, as all Android smartphones support encryption than can be enabled by the user.

Privacy has its price, and in this case perhaps the best solution is just not selling your old cell phone in the first place.