Removing Personal Data Before Recycling Electronics

The holidays are over, you are loving your new electronics – computer, tablet, smartphone.  Now what to do with the old stuff?  Are privacy and data theft concerns making you reluctant to recycle your old electronics?  By recycling one million laptops, we can save the energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,500 American homes in a year, according to the EPA. This is one of many good reasons to recycle old electronics, yet recycling rates could be much higher.

There are methods to ensure a laptop’s hard drive is unreadable or that personal data has been removed from a mobile phone. You can  take them to an eWaste recycler who is certified.  Certified recyclers are required to sanitize, purge, or destroy data on all hard drives and data storage devices. Additionally, they are required to follow the highest environmental and disposal standards.

Or you can do it yourself.

Paper: The Trash Can = Virtual: Deleting Files

It’s important to realize what it means to clear personal data from a computer. Simply deleting files is not sufficient. It’s similar to throwing away a piece of paper with sensitive information. Sure, it makes it harder to find the information, but anyone who was looking for the data could get to it. The goal is not to throw away the documents, but rather to destroy them.

Paper: The Shredder = Virtual: Reformatting

For a basic shred, opt for a reformat and reinstall of your computer’s operating system. Your computer either came with disks that allow you do this, or you can create disks of your own. When you first get your computer, before any personal documents are on them, you should create system restore disks so you can wipe all your data but still use the computer. If you didn’t do this, you can often contact your computer manufacturer who will be able to provide you with the disks.

Paper: The Black Out (Blacking out all information with a marker) = Virtual: Hard Drive Scrubbing

This reformatting will make it incredibly difficult to access any data that was previously on the computer. However, there is some software that can overcome this, so even stronger measures may be required if you have particularly sensitive information or if you are unsure who will get access to the computer. There is software that will wipe the documents and software currently on the computer and replace it with nonsense software. This makes it very difficult for hackers to make sense of anything that was previously on the computer. To find this software, you can simple search for “hard drive scrubbing software.”

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