Thoughts, information and reflections about technology

Private information on donated computers

When you donate a computer, you have to be extremely careful that you remove all of your personal information. Reformatting the hard drives and reinstalling the operating system is probably a good idea.

If you aren’t going to do that, consider the following

  1. Make sure that you find all of the email files. For example, you should search for *.pst and *.dbx files and delete them.
  2. Use the delete option under Tools, Internet Options or the equivalent for your browser to delete all temporary files, cookies and passwords.
  3. If you are using AOL, check your downloads folder and clean that up. Better yet, delete the AOL folders.
  4. Make sure you check all users and the Shared folders area for files. You should also check all of the users under C:Documents and Settings since there can be files left on the drive for deleted users.
  5. Do a file search for some common file types such as JPG, DOC, XLS, MP3 etc to see if you missed anything. You don’t want to donate a computer with pictures of you and your significant other at the clothing optional swim up bar at Hedonism
  6. If you used Turbo Tax, Quicken, Quickbooks or any similar program, do a thorough search to make sure you have deleted all the data files. Some of the older versions of these applications put the data files in areas where you would not expect to find them.
  7. Go back into C:Documents and settings for each user and make sure you deleted the entire contents of all of the temp folders. (You will need to go into TOOLS, FOLDER OPTIONS to make sure that hidden files are visible.
  8. Go to your windows temp folder, usually C:WINDOWSTEMP and delete the contents of that.
  9. Use REGEDIT to search for all occurrances of your last name. You will see how your name is listed in the registry. ie. Bob Smith. Then do a search for all occurances of Bob Smith and change the name to something like Owner.
  10. You may have some applications where you are registered or that ‘phone home’ for updates. If you are going to install these apps on your new machine, make sure you delete them from the old machine.
  11. If you are using a PDA or application to update your cell phone contact information, be sure to delete that application and data.
  12. If you use any kind of VPN or dialer, go into the network connections and make sure you delete that.
  13. Make sure you empty the recycle bin
  14. Once all is done, run a disk wiping utility. Data that is erased and even data deleted from the recycle bin, can be retrieved.

Even if you are completely thorough with the items above, there is a chance that some personal information can remain on the machine. You need to weigh the advantages of a donation against the risks of compromising your personal data.

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