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Green Computing and Privacy Issues

The recycling of old computers raises an important privacy issue.

These days, the term "green" describe a wide range of earth-conscious efforts aimed at reducing human impact on the environment. You have probably heard of green buildings and green cars, but have you heard of green computing?

Green computing is the use of practices that reduce the environmental impact of computers for both you and the computer manufacturer. The manufacturing of computers, as well as their everyday use, can be hazardous to the environment. They are made of chemicals and materials that cannot be disposed of safely in the environment. Plus, as electronic devices, they require a good amount of energy. One action you can take to help reduce the environmental impact of your old computer is to donate it to a recycling center instead of throwing it out with the trash.

The recycling of old computers raises an important privacy issue. The old storage devices still hold private information, such as emails, passwords and credit card numbers. The files that users think they delete from the old hard drive can be recovered and used again, merely by someone using software that is available freely on the Internet. Scary stuff! For this reason, some companies store old systems that are out of service or outdated because software is not available, or compatible with old operating systems, like Windows 3.1, to wipe the data.

The simple deletion of a file is only adequate to clear out your desktop or reduce clutter and make more space available on the hard drive, but it doesn't actually remove the file from the hard drive. The file still exists; it's just not visible in the index of the directory.

If you simply throw a computer away, you seriously compromise of all your confidential files, trade secrets and proprietary data. If the discarded computer falls into the hands of a someone who knows how to access the hard drive, then he can freely retrieve the confidential data and use it without a trace, such as your full, name, birth date, social security number or credit card numbers.

Before you recycle a computer, the best thing to do is to take out the hard drive, or hard drives if there is more than one, and physically destroy it (e.g., melt it, break it into pieces, etc.). You may also simply store the hard drive somewhere safe if you wish to keep the data. There are some authorized hardware recycling companies to whom the computer may be given for recycling, and they typically sign a non-disclosure agreement. Green computing is a great way to help a worthy cause, but you should be wise about protecting any sensitive information when you recycle.

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