You’ve got yourself a new computer, but what do you do with the old one? Before you dispose of it through e-cycling, donate it to charity, give it to a friend, or even sell it online, you should make sure your data has been completely cleared off your old machine.
How to Wipe Your Old Computer
Clearing the contents of your old computer may seem simple, but it requires more steps than you’d think. Remember, before you clear your old device, make sure to save and transfer any data you need to keep. Go into the ‘Settings’ section of the computer and find the ‘Reset’ option. Once you select ‘Reset’, all your data and settings should be removed and the computer will revert to factory settings.
While you may think the data is gone it is NOT completely removed. A standard drive erase only disconnects the file from its index, so while it appears gone the file is still there and may be recoverable. A complete data wipe is recommended to make data harder to restore and ensure everything on your computer’s drive is cleaned off or complete drive destruction.
If you’re planning on donating or e-cycling, they may destroy the drive for you. However, I would recommend the “trust but verify” method of watching them perform that task in your presence. The reality is that unless it is destroyed, data can be recovered from a drive. Whether it is usable data or worth the cost to recover is a different story, but best practice is to make it not worth the effort.
What Technology Can Charities Actually Use?
Before you decide to donate your gently used technology to a charity, consider the usability of the computer. Depending on how old the computer is or if it isn’t working for you, it may not be useful. Technology evolves so quickly that a five-year-old device may not mesh well with existing equipment and software. Broken and irreparable equipment is not useful to anyone, so if you have a broken computer, consider e-cycling it instead.
Most charities will specify what they will accept, so check their website or call them first. A good rule of thumb is that if it is a slow and old for you it will likely cost them more to make it work than buying a new system. It’s okay to just e-cycle instead of donate.
Disposing Unusable Technology with Electronic Recycling Services
Any old, broken or irreparable equipment should be recycled. All electronic devices have valuable and reusable pieces that, if recycled, can be implemented in other electronics. If the parts are not valuable, it’s important to discard them in an environmentally friendly manner. Batteries and other metals can seep into the ground and soil and cause problems.
Make sure you are using a legitimate recycler. Some companies will simply tear out the usable valuable parts and dump the rest in the landfill. Make sure your recycler is bona fide. A great place to start is to search through your local Better Business Bureau listings.
Okay, Is This All Really Necessary?
True story: recently a family member of mine was looking for a computer. She informed me a week later that a friend gave her his old laptop and cleaned off all his data first. I said, “Great, congratulations!”
The next week that family member called me and said she got a phone call from “Microsoft Support” and they said the computer had malware so she let them remote into the computer. When they asked for $300 to fix it, she disconnected them and called me.
First, Microsoft will never call you at home — especially not in broken English — and ask for remote access. When I remotely accessed the system to make sure they did not install a back door or other malicious program, I discovered ALL of the previous user data that was “removed” was still sitting in the Recycle Bin. What wasn’t recycled was still on the friend’s user’s profile. From the document titles, I could see that the data included tax forms (which included a social security number) and other private information. I immediately purged that data from the system and luckily found no back doors.
Fortunately, given the limited time the fake “Microsoft Support” was in the system, there was not ample time to access any of that data before they were disconnected. I still instructed her to warn the previous user of the data they left on the computer and to monitor credit just in case.
We all want to save the planet or do a good deed, but sometimes the saying “no good deed goes unpunished” has merit. Do your due diligence.