Careful When Throwing Away Computers

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[Image: Flickr user ultrahi]

Sometimes it pays to go for a walk around the neighborhood on trash day. Last week I found a Mac computer sitting on the curb waiting for the garbage guys to take it away. It didn't look like anything was wrong with it, so I lugged it home, plugged it in and waited for something like an explosion.

Guess what happened. Nothing. Or rather, everything, perfectly, without any errors. The operating system booted up, the anti-virus software checked everything out and had no complaints and I had instant access to a computer that had absolutely no problems other than it was a little slower than the machine I'm used to using at home.

Two things occurred to me when everything lit up: 1) We live in a rich society that can throw out a high-performance piece of equipment like this with no regrets, and 2) people are very, very stupid about what they leave on their computers when they get rid of them.

What we have revealed in the course of setting up this computer to see how our web projects look on a Mac, we've found e-mail, photos, addresses, names, maps, instant message chat transcripts, about $1000-worth of music and a heck of a lot more. Holy moly, in the wrong hands, the teen girls who shared this machine could be in deep trouble.

So I beseech you donate your computers to needy causes, but before you do, make darn sure they're clean. Deleting files isn't enough. You need to make sure that stuff is gone before you give it away. I'll explore a few ways to clean up your computer in this week's blog postings. I'll tell you what to remove from your computer, how to make sure it's really clean, and how to donate it.

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