Department of Defense Data ErasureErasing a hard drive to Department of Defense (DoD) standards takes hours. Its standard practice here at AnythingIT, as it should be for any reputable electronics recycler.

Most consumers, however, don’t need that depth of data erasure, nor do they have the time or resources to complete it. Something does need to be done though, because personal computers contain the owner’s name, and often bank account, credit card info, and even social security and tax information. Before you throw out, give away, or auction off your computer or cell phone, make sure you erase all personal data and reset the unit back to the factory default.

Larry Daniel, from Guardian Digital Forensics says “You’re literally giving your personal information out to the criminal world.”

Doing a factory reset yourself is easy on most items. On the iPhone; go to “settings” click on “general” then press “reset” and select “erase all content and settings.”

Consumer Reports’ computer expert Dean Gallea says erasing info on Android phones is a little more complicated. Usually you go to ‘settings,’ and choose ‘privacy.’ Then you have to consult the manual online for the next steps.

To erase a personal computer, you need to download software. A good choice is from dban.org.

“You download the software and put it onto a CD. Then you put the CD into the computer’s disc drive and follow the instructions to erase the hard drive’s contents,” said Gallea.

Apple computers come with an original operating-system DVD with software to erase your files. Put it into the computer’s disc drive, reboot it, holding down the ‘C’ key during startup. Once the computer has booted up, choose “utilities,” then “disc utility,” select “hard drive,” then hit “erase.”

If you think you don’t have enough time to wipe your device, consider this:

Criminals live off of personal data. A study done in Brittan found that more than half of secondhand mobile phones examined still had sensitive personal data on them, including credit and debit card PINs, Facebook and Twitter usernames and passwords, bank account details, friends’ phone numbers and personal information. In a related poll of British adults who had sold mobile phone, 81% believed they had completely cleaned their phones of personal data.

After you’ve erased your computer and cell phones, Consumer Reports says double check everything is gone.

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MIT researchers tracking retired computersA research group at MIT, Sensible City Lab, did a study last year that documented the second life of used laptops and other electronic devices by sending images and GPS coordinates from their remote places. According to their website, “Starting in Spring 2011, we started working with electronics recyclers and educational non-profit organizations who donate outdated computers to developing countries. We equipped forty refurbished netbook computers with tracking software adapted from the open-source Prey project. Every twenty minutes, these laptops send us their location (determined using Google’s geolocation API) and a picture from their built-in camera. “

According to Sensible City Lab, “The information they report back offers first-hand perspectives – glimpses into e-waste recycling villages, local thrift stores, public schools and libraries – that prompt a reflection on our society’s relationship with our electronic devices.”

They also tracked the movement of electronic waste, such as cell-phones, laptops, batteries and spent printer cartridges, coming from households in Seattle, Washington. The location reports sent to them by the trackers offered insights into the e-waste removal chain, revealing the routes these devices travel and the facilities that receive them.

The project was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.

Full details of the project can be seen here: http://senseable.mit.edu/backtalk/

We think it would be just as interesting to track electronic assets and other IT equipment that is sent to a non-certified recycler, vs. an e-Steward, who is audited and checked for compliance. There are a lot of small to medium size businesses that use “a guy with a van” for their electronic recycling. The chain-of-custody is probably broken in a lot of places.

For more information on SensibleCIty Lab, please contact senseable-backtalk@mit.edu

For More information on e-Stewards, please visit: www.e-stewards.org

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Bring Your Own Device. Also called “The consumerization of IT”. People spend time researching the best tablet and smartphone, and when it comes to work, they want to continue using those devices. Companies have learned to adapt and let employees use their devices of choice – it makes them more productive and can alleviate some of the purchasing costs for the IT Department.

But what happens when that equipment is at the End Of Life? The employee has upgraded, as people do more and more frequently… and now they are left with equipment that they don’t want. It may even have company emails or documents on it. AnythingIT has just release a white paper offering solutions for Bring Your Own Device- End of Life (or BYOD-EOL). Download the free white paper HERE.

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The metals and plastics inside a smart phone can all be recycled and reused.

In a recent survey published in the August 2012 edition of Science Magazine, the author stated that all metals are infinitely recycleable and could exist in a closed loop system. The benefit is that recycling is typically more energy-efficient than mining and refining raw ore for virgin materials. Estimates vary but mining and refining can require as much as 20 times the amount of energy as recycling a given material. If you consider the vast amount of energy, technology, human labor and time that is expended to get various elements out of the ground, often for a single time use, there is a lot of room for improvement in the amount of metal recycling.

In most gadgets you can think of, tiny amounts of rare elements are used to enhance functionality. As the industrial ecologists write in Science Magazine, “The more intricate the product and the more diverse the materials set it uses, the better it is likely to perform, but the more difficult it is to recycle so as to preserve the resources that were essential to making it work in the first place.”

A good electronic recycler knows this and takes the necessary steps to extract those rare elements, then separate the plastics and other metals. In the end, whether the smart phone is refurbished and resold or recycled, it all gets reused.

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