SECOND-HAND PHONES STILL HAVE STUFF

phone privacyMore than 80,000 used phones are for sale on eBay on any given day. The owners think they’ve wiped their personal data first. It turns out, they haven’t.

Avast, a maker of anti-virus software, bought 20 phones to check this out. They found over 40,000 photos. More than 1500 were of children, 750 were scantily-dressed women and 250 were nude selfies of men, and there were several hundred personal emails and text messages. There was also one completed loan application and personal information about four previous owners. The cell phone owners thought they were erasing the data before they put them up for sale, but much of it was recoverable.

Naturally, Avast has a fix for that problem, and since it’s free, we pass it along: it’s an Android app called Avast Anti-Theft. Once you set it up, you can securely delete everything on your phone by logging into your Avast account on your computer.

If you don’t already have an Avast account, you can open one for free. We’ve used Avast for years and have recommended it to our readers, so we’re confident about their work. We signed in to our Avast account at my.avast.com, and once there, we had many commands at our disposal, including the ability to wipe our phone’s contents, if we wished, or locate it by its GPS coordinates. There was also a “siren” feature — and of course we couldn’t resist trying it out. On came a very loud siren, with a man’s voice yelling “This phone has been lost or stolen” over and over again.

One problem: After installation, Avast Anti-Theft told us it had a few issues to fix before we could use it. It took us awhile to figure out that we could fix them by just tapping each one and then tapping “fix.”  Their explanations were very techie and may be a turn-off for some. For instance, we weren’t sure what to do about the request to “uninstall T-Mobile’s text messaging app,” so we just ignored it. In fact, we ignored most of the explanations and everything still worked.

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