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How do I remove my personal information from a machine before giving it away?

Selling Desktop 2007 Vista: How do I clean up the computer so that nothing personal is left? Can I do this by myself or do I need a professional?

When disposing of a machine – regardless whether it’s a sale, a donation, a
recycle, or a discard – it’s critical to remove all of your personal
information from the storage included in that machine.

In this audio segment from an Ask Leo! webinar,
I’ll discuss one approach to doing so, that – unfortunately – also
requires that you erase Windows itself as well.

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Transcript

Selling Desktop 2007 Vista: How do I clean up the computer so that
nothing personal is left? Can I do this by myself or do I need a
professional?

So the best way to do this is to use a program called DBAN. It actually
stands for Darik’s Boot and Nuke.

And what it does is – it’s a CD that you burn and then you boot from the boot
part. The nuke part is when it’s run, it automatically and thoroughly erases
everything from your hard drive – everything. So all of your personal
information is gone.

Now, the downside of that, that I think causes a lot of people some angst is
that it also erases Windows. Like I said, it erases everything on the hard
drive. That’s the nuke part. So once we get past the legalities of transferring
Windows to another user, which depending on the Windows and depending on how
you got it, depending on the license, may or may not be a legal thing to
do.

The right way to do it is to erase the hard disc completely with a utility
like DBAN and then either reinstall Windows from scratch from your original
Windows installation media and the key that went with it or provide the
original Windows installation media and the key that went with it with the
machine so that the recipient of the machine can then install Windows from
scratch.

Is there a way to do this safely without erasing
Windows?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. The problem is that Windows saves a lot of
information. You’ve probably heard about the registry. There’s lots of random
things that get stuffed in there from time-to-time.

Presumably, nothing of a deeply personal nature, but just enough to make it
uncomfortable and to have some of your personal information – some of your
personal activities – like your most recently used documents or a setting in a
program or who knows what.

That’s actually part of the problem. We don’t know the level of the
information that’s been stored in the registry. Along with any other files that
Windows has written during its life as your copy of Windows on your
machine.

You can certainly uninstall all your programs; you can delete all of your
data files; you can do the secure wipe of your free space that we talked about
earlier to make sure that everything you deleted really is deleted.

You can run CCleaner on it to
make sure that all of your temporary files are deleted and document history is
one of those things that we know about that gets deleted. You can go through
all of that, but there’s simply no assurance that there isn’t anything left
behind. The only assurance that you really have is to delete the entire
contents of the hard disc completely – nuke it. And the way to then provide
Windows with that machine, is to provide the original installation media and
the product key.

And to be clear, you’re not giving people a copy of Windows; that would be wrong; that would be illegal. You are transferring (when it’s allowed) you are transferring your copy of Windows along with that machine to the recipient. So
that means, if you give them an installation CD – more importantly, if you give
them the product key that enables the Windows from the installation CD – you can
no longer use that copy of Windows yourself, legally. You are transferring it
to another person; copying it, giving it to another person boils down to
software piracy.

So, the safest thing to do when turning in a computer, when giving a
computer to somebody else – erase it – top to bottom. Use DBAN; make sure that
the hard discs themselves are completely empty and then go from there.

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6 comments on “How do I remove my personal information from a machine before giving it away?”

  1. Most computers have a recovery partition. Use this to wipe and reinstall Windows. Then the recipient has a working machine and not a doorstop.

    Reply
  2. ther’s is a product called wpedrive that has to disk you get and removes all things on hard drive or the other disk removes everything but the oprating system I belive it sales fo about 435.00 dollars online

    Reply
  3. okay I am sorry let me correct my frist comments I am not good at typeing with out looking up There’s is a product called wipedrive that will take everything off your hard drive but they also have disc that will take everything and leave the opreating system om your hard drive you can look online for this product (wipedrive) I think it sells for around $35.00 dollars sorry about the bad post Michael

    Reply
  4. I bought a used pc a few years ago, and it was clean with only programs installed like it had when it was new. However, after about 6 months of use, I lost some data so I wound up buying a data recovery software for about $49. It ran and ran and ran. It took it 17 hours to finish. And when it was done, there was so much stuff loaded that I couldn’t even find the one thing I was trying to recover. What a mess it was too. Pictures of people I didn’t even know. Documents… the whole nine yards.

    That’s a classic example of a machine that had not been properly cleaned before being given away or sold.

    Leo
    09-May-2012
    Reply
  5. @Jack
    A complete format will essentially do the same thing as a one pass wipe, but you’d still need to either remove the drive or boot your computer from a removable medium in order to format it. DBAN is one simple way to accomplish this.

    Reply

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