A recent Ericsson Mobility Report revealed that some 90 percent of Americans have three or more Internet-connected devices, each with its own operating system, in their homes. From a security and privacy perspective, this means that highly sensitive information is likely lurking in places you haven't even imagined.
If you work out of your home or run a small business where employees are using both provided and personal devices, the risk multiplies. That's why, if you plan to recycle or trade in your old laptop, desktop or another device, you need to prepare your machine appropriately. Don't turn your sensitive information over to a stranger. Here are some device recycling tips to ensure a safe and reliable transfer.
Back It Up
Always have a backup storage process in place, advises Sean Magann, vice president of Sims Recycling Solutions, whose domestic headquarters are in West Chicago, "especially during disposition, because as a part of the disposal process, hard drives will either be degaussed, wiped or destroyed." He also recommends backing up information at least once a week.
Scott Sobol, owner of Rockland County (NY) Computer Services, cautions against backing up your data to a single flash drive, DVD or external hard drive. "If the data is important enough, you can never entirely trust one backup source," he says.
Sobol frequently has customers who try to recover the data after their backup source fails. "This is a long and expensive process," he says. "Therefore, my best advice is to keep multiple copies of your important data on multiple backup sources."
Jake Swenson, director of sustainability at Staples, suggests cloud-based services like Carbonite or Code42 as easy options for transferring data. He adds that a key consideration for data-containing devices is erasing data from old devices after you've transferred the information you want to your new device. While reputable e-waste collectors and recyclers work to ensure that data-containing devices are fully erased to protect customer information, you may want to securely erase your hard drives before dropping off items for recycling.
Clean Out Your Computer
For erasing data from computers, you can try free software programs DBAN or Eraser. Or you can physically remove the hard drive. According to Sobol, "the easiest way to find out how to remove the hard drive from your computer is to Google your computer's model number and add 'hard drive removal' after the model in the search." There's a good chance you'll find a guide with step-by-step instructions on how to do it.
Adds Swenson, "For those inclined, you can also physically destroy the hard drives by taking a hammer to them." Then turn over the smashed items to an eCycling service (because the damaged machine won't have much trade-in value). It just depends on whether you can (and want to) keep your hard drive as a backup for your files.
Don't Forget About Your Phone and Other Devices
Erasing phones and tablets is a bit easier, because you can initiate a factory reset to completely wipe your device. Processes vary by manufacturer, but are generally easy to do. For example, for iPhone, iPad and iPod devices, go to Settings>General>Reset, and then select "Erase All Content and Settings."
For printers, Swenson advises you to remember to take out the ink or toner cartridges and recycle them separately.
Still Some Value?
When upgrading to a new machine, look first to see if your device has trade-in value. Otherwise, recycling is the way to go. But Swenson urges you to first research collectors or recyclers.
"Some recyclers are interested only in higher-value items and may not responsibly recycle all items," he says. "Items that cost a lot to recycle may get abandoned or shipped overseas illegally. We recommend working with e-Stewards certified recyclers where possible."
Businesses often overlook licenses when recycling technology, and they shouldn't. If a device contains a licensed program and is received and processed for disposition, businesses could be paying for a license on a computer they no longer use. Be certain to cancel software licenses after you recycle your computer or device.
Tom Smith, vice president of business and development at CloudEntr, a password and identity-access management firm based in Austin, TX, suggests another critical consideration for businesses: When employees leave a company, or devices leave the employees' possession in an upgrade, company data is at risk. This happens more commonly today with the prevalence of bring-your-own-device policies.
You should put a solution in place. Managers and employees should be made aware that they need to notify IT so data and access can be revoked before staff members move on. Another solution is mobile device management software, "which permits the employer to remotely wipe the device of sensitive information and software access to company assets," Smith says.