Clearing Personal Information Off Your Devices
The most important thing to do when recycling or reusing old electronics is to clear all personal information from it. Whether it’s a computer, laptop, tablet, or cell phone it is important to erase your data in order to protect yourself from potential identity theft, scams, or other misuses of your information.
First, be sure you remove any SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) or memory cards as they will often have personal information stored on them. It is possible to transfer old information to a new device, through backups and transfer software. When you have all the information you need from your device it is best to completely remove the information. Deleting is not enough because it doesn’t actually remove your files, it only removes the link that points to where that information is stored. It can still be recovered.
Instead of deleting, it’s better to factory reset a device and double check it for any lingering information, this process works well for cell phones.
- For Apple iOS first check to make sure the screen lock is enabled, having this encrypts your data, then when the phone is reset all encrypted data will be removed. To do this factory reset, go to Settings > General > Reset. A prompt will have the erase button and ask if you’re sure.
- For Android devices the trail is Settings > Privacy > Factory Data Reset > Reset Phone > Erase Everything > Reboot.
Another option is to overwrite the information. Overwriting inserts random information in place of the personal information that was there before. Some experts suggest that overwriting once is enough, while others encourage overwriting another couple of times to be absolutely sure there’s no residual personal information remaining.
There are several programs available for free online that will overwrite your data. One that is often recommended for computers is Darik’s Boot and Nuke. It offers both a free and paid version; but unless you have extremely sensitive information, the free version should be fine. Another option that works on all devices, not just computers, is Secure Erase by Parted Magic. Parted Magic offers step-by-step instructions that can be viewed and printed prior to running the wipe.
Although recycling, reusing, or repurposing is best, an old computer or device can also be destroyed physically. There are companies that will take a hard drive and burn, melt, or pulverize it. To do the physical destruction yourself, while wearing safety goggles, use a hammer to smash the hard drive into little pieces. You could also hammer nails through the drive or drill holes into it. Do not try to burn it – the fumes from a melting hard drive can make you seriously ill and even kill you. Do not try to melt it in a microwave or pour acid on it as some myths have suggested in the past.
Following these steps when disposing of an old device will safeguard your personal information and keep it from falling into the wrong hands.