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A Simple Factory Reset Could Break Your Google Wallet Forever, Learn How to Safeguard Your Info

In the Android community, factory resets and phone wipes are almost second nature, even if you aren’t a prolific ROM flasher. There are ways to get your information back onto your phone rather quickly after these wipes, but a security feature in Google Wallet leaves you with the potential of the application never working again after even a simple factory reset.

A new owner of an HTC EVO 4G LTE found that his Sense was crashing repeatedly, and making the phone unusable. So he factory reset the phone and found that the secure element inside his phone’s NFC chip had been blown. At this point, Google Wallet and any other application that uses the secure element in the NFC chip is done, for good. A call to Google will only get the response that your warranty (if you have one) will replace the phone.

It should be noted that this problem isn’t limited to the EVO 4G LTE either, the Galaxy Nexus can also fall prey to this feature. But there is a way to make sure your NFC isn’t fried if you are planning on a new ROM sometime soon. Before doing a factory reset or wipe of any kind, users should go into Google Wallet, go into Settings and check the option of “Reset Google Wallet.” This deletes all the information and makes sure that the secure element doesn’t trip itself when the phone is reset. What do you do if your secure element has already been fried? Well, if you don’t have a backup made from before the wipe, you are pretty much out of luck. If you are lucky enough to have that backup, a restore will fix it and allow you to reset Google Wallet before flashing again.

The worst part about this whole thing is the lack of any kind of warning to users of Google Wallet. The feature has good intentions, protecting your sensitive Wallet data from would-be hackers, but when it goes wrong; it really goes wrong. In reality, it’s just another growing pain for a still-young Google Wallet service. Hopefully Google sees the users that are affected by this and gives them a way to fix their phones. Any readers affected by this bug? How did you deal with it?

Via: Phandroid

  • Protonus

    Although I never saw a secure element error, my wallet was stuck at “initializing”
    forever. It happened after I wiped data to go to a newer build of AOKP.
    I hadn’t heard about doing the reset from within the wallet app to prevent it. I’ve updated ROM’s and flashed many times, as well as many factory resets since, and it still occurs.

    Today I updated to the latest market release of wallet. It now walks me
    thru activation, but hangs at “Activating account” forever now
    instead. I’m sure they’re all the same issue.

    Now, I have some thoughts on this. Recently Titanium Backup added a new
    feature. After doing a “wipe data / factory reset” in CWM, you now get
    prompted when you open TiBackup, that the device ID has changed, and it
    asks if you want to restore back to a backed up one. If you choose yes,
    it immediately applies it and reboots. Now, since they just added this
    feature, I only have a recent one backed up. But I wonder if this
    isn’t the whole problem? TiBackup says it’s how apps recognize that
    they’re installed on your specific device and it can break licenses etc.

    I wonder if I had the device ID from when I first installed Wallet, if that’s all i would need to fix this?

    Thoughts?

  • Larizard

    does this include locked, unrooted, stock that installed Google Wallet through the apk? :/

    • http://twitter.com/_axi0m Corey Hitchens

      Yes. Any factory reset w/o resetting GW is the bug, regardless of image.

      • art

        Last week I factory reset my stock unrooted Galaxy Nexus 4.1.1 and then remembered this article. However I was able to set up Wallet successfully. I’ve not used the app yet but it set up just fine.

  • chazzdjr

    When will this “Secure Element” error first pop up? Is it as soon as you launch the Google Wallet app?

  • http://twitter.com/umiwonder CODEMAN

    Does this happen to the sprint version too even though wallet is pre loaded?

  • davidukfl

    this has been a known issue on the gnex for a while now. It’s very avoidable though, just reset google wallet from within the app before factory resetting and it’ll work fine.

  • Pedro

    Am I reading this right?

    Use TiBu and scheduled backups. Run the ‘Backup changed user data’ script prior to factory reset. Restore data.Profit.

    Don’t use TiBu.
    Lose wallet data.
    Need new phone.

  • http://twitter.com/DaveCMorales Dave Morales

    Haven’t been able to use Google wallet since I flashed my first ROM. Pretty ridiculous.

  • Mii

    Amy way to check if its blown ? i have google wallet, and i logged back into my account ok, but i dont have many places near me that use it so i have no idea if its tripped or not.

    • Mii

      Any*

      • cphilano

        I mean come on…You can’t mistype/ misspell a word without the spelling police cracking down on criminal word behavior? Sheesh

  • http://twitter.com/Real4life72 Real4life

    Mine worked when i first got my galaxy nexus. Of course verizon screwed that up. It doesn’t work now at all. I have re-set my phone a few times so i guess it sucks that i didnt know all this before. Im over the nexus anyway.

  • topsitee

    Google Wallet went from being a cool fun idea with lot’s of potential to a disaster in a matter of months. I was part of the group supporting the app now I am ready for Google to give up they obviously don’t know what they are doing with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Thomas-L-Wolfe/100000451164661 Thomas L. Wolfe

    I’ve had the secure element lockout on my Nexus and got back in fine. Use Titanium Backup to restore a working version, then wipe data from Titanium Backup itself.

    Works perfect. People are blowing it out of proportion. I’ve been “locked out” twice now, and I have a perfectly working wallet following the steps above.

  • http://twitter.com/ToysSamurai Toys Samurai

    I hate to admit it, the only good thing about the Google Wallet is that $10 it comes with. It bought me a couple soda, that’s it.

  • akazerotime

    Is this why Google Wallet is asking for root permissions now?

    • 4n1m4L

      No, that’s because google really doesn’t want you to use wallet if you are rooted. Normally android apps can only see their own data, or certain places with permission. Rooting allows any “allowed” app access to all data. Therefore it would be easy for mal ware to steal your shit if you were rooted.

  • Shannon Kerr

    Happened to me. Restoring backup now. :( Hopefully it’s not messed up.

  • summit1986

    Secure element locked out since December… http://youtu.be/yMQhXc1dHIQ

    • http://twitter.com/_axi0m Corey Hitchens

      Lol I just did reset yesterday to flash new ROM/kernel. This clip had me rolling. Luckily everything works fine from tibu backup :)

  • https://twitter.com/#!/MMcCraryNJ Michael McCrary

    Interesting to see that this is just now making the blog rounds. We’ve been having the secure element discussion regarding the Galaxy Nexus being bricked after a ROM change or even a data wipe/reset on XDA since November.

  • http://twitter.com/eatmode4life Ray Mendoza

    I have done a “factory restore” multiple times and I have yet to run into this thank goodness. I always do it from recovery and never when actually running android.

  • Matt Gondek

    I haven’t used Google Wallet since that pesky “Unsupported Device” bar ruined the nice blue UI. Coincidentally, that was also the same day I spent Google’s $10 donation

  • TROLOLOL

    so… can’t you just replace the battery?

    • http://twitter.com/eatmode4life Ray Mendoza

      I was about to reply with an attitude then saw your name. Touche, sir. Touche. Troll achieved.

    • BrianWenger

      Wel it could actually be a legitimate question. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the NFC chip, in the Nexus anyway, is in the battery.

      • Tripod4

        I believe only the antenna/leads are integrated into the battery – chip resides in phone.

        • 4n1m4L

          Correct

      • derekross

        Chip =! Antenna

        • mperez

          =! != !=

  • Michael Franz

    wow, that blows.

    Funny thing is if you tell VZW that Google Wallet does not work then they will say well it isnt supported on the device. Make sure to say secure element.

    Kellex/Anyone – Is there a way to check to see if the secure element is still working or if maybe there is an app that checks it?

    I tried using my wallet a few weeks ago and the tap was sent but not transmitted, i wonder if this is the problem.

    • http://twitter.com/Defenestratus Defenestratus

      Same thing happened to me at Best Buy. But its because they stopped taking contactless payments period.

    • http://twitter.com/ToysSamurai Toys Samurai

      Just find a soda machine that supports MasterCard PayPass.

  • 4n1m4L

    Makes perfect sense. Its not necessarily blown, but its looking for a password from your phone that it doesn’t have anymore. Highlights the risks of romming though

  • http://twitter.com/expertontech Tylar Overturf

    Yep had this happen to me on my Galaxy Nexus. Can’t use Wallet anymore by my NFC works fine. Your NFC should still work if this happens.

    • ChuckDz3

      How do you know that this has happened to you? Did it simply stop working, like you can’t even open google wallet to see your accounts? or did you try to pay for something and it wouldn’t go through?

      The reason I asked this is because the other day before these stories came out, I tried to make a purchase, (the same way I successfully did 3-5 times before) and I got a message that said ‘payment sent’ then ‘payment not sent’ and ‘please check to make sure the cashier is ready’ something along those lines but it never went through?

      I am just curious to see what is the message or how to tell if you have fried the use of Google Wallet forever.

      • Tripod4

        Fairly certain the same has happened to me. I ROM’d from factory a few times since the ‘unsupported device’ banner came out, and I’ve been experiencing similar situations when trying to pay for cab fare in NYC – contact ‘achieved’ but no payment goes through.

        • Stephen Clagett

          The “Unsupported Device” banner on the Wallet App is just indicating that you are on a rooted device. It should still work.

          • Tripod4

            Right, I knew that – but that’s also around the time when I started doing factory wipes and installing new ROMS, and Wallet hasn’t worked since. I haven’t gotten the ‘secure element error’ though. I’ve reset Wallet and am going to try again today.

      • http://twitter.com/seebrock Chris Brockmire

        That’s what I have been trying to figure out all day. Will gwallet still open the same if the se is fried or will that message pop up when you try to make a purchase? I have flashed several time and gwallet still opens fine but I haven’t tried to use it yet since flashing. I have also be restoring my apps with titanium backup wallet included if that could be why I’m OK.

        • 4n1m4L

          Secure element not responding.

  • r0lct

    I think the saddest part of the story is someone has a phone that’s only been out for a short time and the skin is so terrible it’s crashing that much. Makes no Sense.

    • http://twitter.com/papibone5 Alphonso Reeves

      that’s the beauty of android.. I’m a android fanboy to the fullest but like you said its sad that a brand new device is crashing that much. and us android user actually be talking down on iOS and me being a former iOS user that’s something that rarely happens.. sometime I think we need to sit back and actually request these manufacturer & Google to start focusing on the quality of the OS instead of 1080 screen and larger displays.. its a shame that our android devices are dual, quad cores clock at 1.2-1.5 but yet can’t handle the simple OS of the phone. but the iphone dual core clock at 800mhz handl it OS with ease.. come on Google focus on making a OS that actually work out the box with no need to root to make it better.. and no I’m not a apple fanboy so don’t bash me for speaking the truth

  • http://twitter.com/Defenestratus Defenestratus

    Also something to note – Best Buy has stopped accepting contactless payments. Don’t be the guy (like me) that loads $200 onto your prepaid Google card only to find out that they don’t accept it anymore.

    They won’t cancel the transaction to the prepaid card unless you cancel your account which means you can never use Google wallet on that phone ever again.

    • r0lct

      When they were having problems with the app I called Money network and they reversed my transaction and I got my money back. I tihnk it did cancel that card number, but I just went back into the app and I was able to register a pre-paid card. So I think just that card number never works again, not the app itself. So you just setup a new number.

      Edit: Or what I’m really trying to say is you may want to call back and get some clarification in case you just got a bad rep.

      • http://twitter.com/Defenestratus Defenestratus

        Thanks! It make sense but the rep said pretty clearly that I’ll not be able to use the card again unless I get a new phone.

        • r0lct

          I’ll try it out later this week and let you know if it worked for me.

  • InyRules

    That’s pretty irresponsible of Google to not warn users about this, especially since customer service will ALWAYS tell you to factory reset your phone if something is wrong. The unknowing average user that don’t visit blogs like these will not know how to prevent this from happening. Glad I read this, since I was planning on rooting and flashing a new ROM soon. Might just go out and spend the $10 Google gave out just in case. Thanks!

    • AnotherAndroidKid

      A box of pads for the wife at CVS will use up that $10 just fine.

      She thought I was nuts when I said I wanted to go pay for them.

      • InyRules

        BAHAHA! Thanks, man!