Compute: How to erase, remove and delete data from old phones and other cast-off tech devices
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By ANDREA ELDRIDGE, Scripps Howard News Service
If you were fortunate enough to receive a new tech gadget this holiday season, it can be a great opportunity to donate or sell an older device that you no longer need. Before you send it off, 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 handing down your laptop to your teenager, giving your old phone to Uncle Fred, or donating your gadget to Goodwill, make sure you wipe your data off the device.
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 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 on eBay 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 ( www.dban.org , 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 recommend pulling out and destroying the old hard drive so there's no risk of anyone gaining access to your personal information. Don some safety glasses, grab a hammer and get some revenge on the system that failed you.
Before handing off an old cellphone, pull the SIM card (if possible; Verizon doesn't use removable SIM cards) to disable the phone's ability to connect to a cell provider network and remove personal information. Also, make sure to remove any expansion memory cards. Your next stop should be ReCellular ( http://recellular.com/recycling/data_eraser/ ). Enter the make and model type of your phone, register and you'll be emailed 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 off the phone with your carrier will not ensure that your personal data is removed before your device ends up resold or donated.
The good news about MP3 players and tablets is that they typically use 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 the original state, wiping your files in the process. For a video tutorial specific to your gadget, check eHow ( www.ehow.com ).
Selling an electronic item that you no longer need can be a great way to earn a few bucks. Once you're confident that all traces of your personal data has been purged, make sure you clean and refurbish the device so you can get top dollar. Gazelle ( www.gazelle.com ) is a gadget-specific resource to sell or recycle your old toys. Because a third party inspects and confirms its condition before sending money on to the seller, buyers are often willing to pay a higher price than through the buyer-beware experience of Craigslist or eBay.
Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, which offers on-site computer and home theater set up and repair. Based in Redding, Calif., it has locations in five states. Contact Eldridge at www.callnerds.com/andrea .