Donating old PCs Leads to Privacy Woes

It's the beginning of the new year and companies traditionally update their systems with new servers and PCs to outfit their offices. While it may seem warm and fuzzy to give the PCs to a charity, be forewarned: you may be giving away personal information embedded within the PCs unless you take the proper precautions.

While companies think they are fulfilling this task by simply deleting or getting rid of files, this isn't nearly enough. Just deleting files "hides" the information rather than getting rid of it completely. In addition, anyone with a basic file recovery program can immediately find the documents or files.

Consider the story of a Minneapolis TV station that bought some old computers from a thrift shop and hired a consultant to see what they could find. Within minutes, the consultant turned up financial information, credit card numbers, copies of living wills, prescriptions, health records and tax returns.

And here's a scary thought: In California, many of the computers that are donated to schools are sent to the California Department of Corrections and given to inmates -- in some cases those housed at maximum security prisons -- to assist in the refurbishment of the computers. Does that increse your comfort level that the data isn't falling into the wrong hands?

There also are legal ramifications of leaving files on a PC for a number of reasons, although the average oe wouldn't normally think about reviewing files for any wrongdoing. Still, a company should protect itself and clean off the hard drive.

To Clean Off Your Hard Drive:

  • Do a back up of the computer that you're going to donate. This lets you catch files that you may need later.
  • "Scrub" the drive using special disk scrubber software.
  • Reload the original software which will essentially overwrite whatever is remaining.

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