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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, September 13, 2004

'Scrub' that donated computer

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

Q. How do I recycle my old home computer, and how can I be sure my personal information is fully erased?

— CL, Kahului, Maui

A. If it's still working, you can find a neighborhood kid who needs a computer, or call a local school, community group or church and see if they need it, or know someone who does.

A number of organizations in Hawai'i recycle old computers. One of the oldest is Ken Goldstein's Hawai'i Computers for Kids (521-2259), which takes working computers and turns them over to schools and nonprofits. Neighbor Islanders can call, and when there are enough for a full load, the military will ship them to O'ahu. Microsoft donates copies of Windows 98 for the program.

There are local recyclers such as the Mutual Assistance Association Center-Hawai'i in Palolo Valley (737-9633). MAAC will repair broken computers, teach Palolo kids about them, and then give them to the youngsters.

County recycling offices on each island have information about computer recycling programs. Recyclers sometimes sponsor events such as Maui and Hilo's Compuswap, in which folks can bring their old equipment to a central location for a new owner and maybe find something else that they need.

Many electronics stores and several computer manufacturers have recycling programs for taking in your old computer, even if it's busted.

You should be sure your personal data has been removed from your computer, which may contain personal financial information, credit card numbers, private e-mail and so forth. Simply moving data to the recycle bin and then dumping it is not enough.

Doing this removes the computer's locator for the data, but the data is still on the disk. It's kind of like ripping out the index from a book, but leaving the text. "Undelete" programs exist to recover the data.

Defragmenting a drive can leave recoverable data behind, and there are programs to recover data from reformatted files.

Most of the recycling sites we found on the Web recommend using a commercial data-destroying program. You can find them on the Web and probably at local computer stores. They tend to have names that include terms like "scrub," "wipe," "erase" and "shred." They're available for both PC and Mac computers.

If you have a question or concern about the Hawaiian environment, drop a note to Jan TenBruggencate at P.O. Box 524, Lihu'e, HI 96766, e-mail jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or call (808) 245-3074.