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How To Securely Dispose of Old Electronic Devices

It is exciting to get a shiny new computer or phone, but what do you do with the old device?

It is important to make sure none of your personal information or data is on your device when you donate, sell, or recycle it. A lot of people sell or give away their old electronics without thinking about what personal information is still on them.  

Most phones and tablets have a way to wipe the internal disk and reset the device to factory settings. Apple and Android phones both do this securely. Some devices like wireless routers have a button that you hold down to completely erase and reset the device. Even printers should be reset if they have your wireless network password saved in them. Other devices like Roku and Apple TV should be reset and wiped as well.

The trickiest devices to reset are the ones that have the most sensitive information on them:  Notebook and desktop computers. Both Apple and Microsoft have ways to reset your computer to a factory image, but this still leaves files on the disk that can be recovered. Deleting your files doesn’t actually remove the information from the disk, it just marks that space as available to be used for something else. There are three ways to make sure your data is protected when you are disposing of a computer.

The first is to encrypt the drive. If you choose a secure password and use a good encryption program it is very unlikely any data can be recovered. However, this usually makes the device unusable and really isn’t an option if you want to donate or sell the device. It also requires that the computer is still working.

The second method is to securely wipe the drive. This is done by a program that overwrites the disk with random gibberish. This doesn’t work with solid state drives and only works on older magnetic disks. It also takes a long time to run and can only be done if the computer still works.

The third solution is to physically remove the disk and destroy it. This is your only choice if the device doesn’t work or if the disk is damaged. This isn’t a good option if you want to sell or donate the computer.

Regardless of whether you do it yourself or seek professional help it is important to remove all personal information from any device that you dispose of.