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U. Cambridge: Factory reset on Android doesn’t delete all data

Just upgraded to a new phone? You might want to hold on to your old device for a bit longer, especially if it’s on Android.


Researchers at the University of Cambridge have found out that the factory reset function on Android does not erase everything on the device. The group performed the study on 21 devices from various models of different manufacturers including Samsung, HTC, and Motorola. They identified that the flash memory platform on these devices, intermittent support by Google, and the failure of manufacturers to roll out software updates, especially on data security, to their hardware were the primary causes of this loophole.


In the study, after performing tests and resets on the units, data on text messages, Google account information, conversation threads on messaging apps, emails, and authentication protocols for apps to access social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) were still recoverable on the device. Photos and videos were, at times, not completely deleted from the device.


This may affect people who seek to sell their used devices in the grey or second-hand markets. An easy hack may pose the risk of exposing their data and information to the public. Manually deleting the content may not entirely solve this issue since these devices use flash memory.


No solution is currently available practically and conveniently for all users. For now, users may choose to encrypt their data to protect it, this, however, may cause some issues if the device is intended to be sold later. For Google-related content, the Google dashboard allows delinking devices that can access information on the account.

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