If your tech-savvy significant other bought you a shiny new gadget for Valentine's Day, it can be a great opportunity to spread the love of tech and donate or sell an older device that you no longer need.
But before you wave goodbye to that old gadget, keep in mind that most electronic items contain a wealth of personal information that you want to ensure doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
Whether you're giving your old MP3 player to your teenager, donating your laptop to Goodwill, or selling your old Smartphone on eBay, be sure that you take a few steps to wipe your data off the device before you fire it off into the world, Cupid-style, for someone else to fall in love with.
Wiping the Slate Clean
If you’re passing along a hand-me-down computer or laptop to a trusted family member, performing a backup (to transfer your data to the new system), formatting the hard drive, and reinstalling windows is the easiest way to return the system to factory-like condition.
Many people think that this is sufficient to wipe your data from the drive, but information is still retrievable using a data recovery software program. What if your nephew decides to sell your old computer to fund his new iPad? It’s important that you completely erase your data off a hard drive before you send it to a new home, or into the unknown.
Instead of just deleting data, you’ll want to use a program like DBAN (free) to overwrite all of the partitions on your hard drive, which makes the information impossible to recreate. If you’re donating a computer or laptop, I’d recommend that you simply pull out and destroy the old hard drive so that there’s no risk of anyone gaining access to your personal information. Don some safety glasses, grab a hammer, and smash that hard drive.
If you're selling an old external hard drive to buy a bigger one, and breaking it into tiny pieces isn't an option, your easiest option to wipe your data is to use a program like Eraser (free). Eraser works for most Windows formats, but is not available for Mac. Fortunately for Mac users, you already have an option available to securely erase your data if you're running an operating system newer than Tiger.
Open Disk Utility (in Applications/Utilities) and select the drive you want to erase (the drives will appear in the left side of the Disk Utility window). Be careful here: If you're erasing an external hard drive, you don't want to accidentally click on your computer's hard drive and wipe it instead! Click on the “Erase” tab and then click on the “Security Options” button. You have four options: Don't Erase Data, Zero Out Data, 7-Pass Erase, and 35-Pass Erase.
If you want to make sure your data is truly gone and unrecoverable, choose the 7-Pass Erase. It's the one the Department of Defense recommends, so it's more than sufficient for most people. It will write over your data seven times. The 35-Pass option is fine, but takes a LONG time, so be prepared to be patient.
Before handing off an old cell phone, pull the SIM card (if possible – Verizon doesn’t utilize removable SIM cards) to disable the phone’s ability to connect to a cell provider network and remove some personal information. Also, make sure to remove any expansion memory cards, which many Smartphones have. Your next stop should be ReCellular.
Enter the make and model type of your phone, register, and they’ll email you detailed instructions to wipe the data off your device. If that doesn’t work, check your phone’s manual, or the manufacturer’s website for instructions to wipe the phone’s drive. Dropping it off with your carrier will not ensure that your personal data is removed before your device ends up re-sold or donated, so make sure you take the necessary precautions before you hand off your old phone.
MP3s and Tablets
The good news about MP3 players and tablets is that they typically utilize flash memory and store data in cloud applications or synched with your main computer instead of writing your data to a hard disk, so it’s easier to wipe a device and return it to factory default settings. Most have an option through their general settings menu to reset all content and settings to its original state, wiping your files in the process. For a detailed walk-through, check eHow for a video tutorial specific to your gadget.
Selling an electronic item that you no longer need, can be a great way to earn a few bucks and pay for that fancy date night dinner. Once you’re confident that all traces of your personal data have been purged, make sure that you clean and refurbish the device so you can get top dollar. Gazelle is a gadget-specific resource to sell or recycle your old toys. Because there’s a third party that inspects and confirms its condition before sending money on to the seller, buyers are often willing to pay a higher price than through the more unknown, buyer-beware experience of Craigslist or eBay.
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Andrea Eldridge is the CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer repair and home theater set-up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea.