Five Things You Must Do Before You Ditch Your Old Gadgets
Getting rid of your old electronics? Whether you’re donating, selling, or recycling your aging gear, you’ll want to take the following steps to make sure your data stays safe and your gear goes where it’s supposed to. And, no, these steps are not optional.
1. Back that thang up!
The first thing to do before you part with any piece of electronics is to make sure you have copies of the data that was on it — especially information that’s difficult or impossible to replace, like photos, videos, and contacts. If you don’t use an automated PC backup service like Backblaze or Carbonite, you’ll want to copy files manually (preferably to an external storage device like a thumb drive or a DVD). If you have an Android or iOS device, make sure you’ve activated Google Auto Backup or Apple’s iCloud service; you also want to go into your data vault and make sure that the files you need are really there.
2. Wipe it down.
Do not assume that whoever gets your old gear will remove your data from it; be safe and do the job yourself. Otherwise you could leave yourself wide open to identity theft. And don’t think for one minute that deleting your Documents folder or even reformatting your hard drive is enough. Last year, Intel Security's online expert Robert Siciliano bought 30 used computers via Craigslist and went through their hard drives with a forensics expert. Half of the machines that had been reformatted still contained personal data from their previous owners.
InterConnection.org uses Active KillDisk to wipe Windows PCs, which comes in a freeware version. Mac owners can use the OS X Disk Utility or White Canyon Software’s WipeDrive. A factory reset should be enough to secure most recent smartphones, provided that you remove any SIM cards that could contain personal info, Siciliano says. But to be ultra safe, use Blancco Mobile to wipe Android and iOS phones.
3. If you can’t wipe it, destroy it.
If you’re not planning to donate or resell your electronics, it’s better to simply destroy any part of them that contained your data, Siciliano says. For example, I recently recycled a laptop that was missing its power supply, so there was no way to turn it on and wipe the disc. Instead I removed the hard drive with a screwdriver, ran over the drive with my car, and then took a sledgehammer to it. (Aside from protecting my personal data, it was also a lot of fun.)
4. Recycle the right way.
Even if you donate or resell your old gear, some or all of it may end up being recycled — and not all recyclers are created equal. You want to make sure that your e-waste isn’t ending up in a landfill or dumped in some Third World country. The best way to do that is to ask who does the company’s downstream recycling, and make sure it’s part of either the e-Stewards or R2 (Responsible Recycling) certification programs, which ensure that all materials are handled in an environmentally responsible way.