While coronavirus is still with us, your old hardware is needed more than ever. Schools are closed and most teaching is taking place online
Many households can not afford the computers or other devices needed to take part in online learning, so I’ve been looking into resources in London for getting working and salvageable secondhand laptops, desktop computers, and other devices into the hands of the people who need them.
Local to me is an organisation called Lambeth Techaid. They began during Lockdown 1 when the urgent need for children to have online access from home became clear. Lambeth TechAid will accept computers going back at least ten years, as a machine that’s underpowered for modern Windows installations can be reformatted for the less demanding world of Linux. They can accept donations at their location in Brixton or can collect from addresses in the borough. At the moment, they are concentrating on getting laptops out to children to help them with their online studies, while re-purposed desktop computers tend to go out to other community organisations such as those aiding refugees and migrants. Click here for more information on who benefits from their work.
You might be wondering how you make sure you get all your own private data off the machine before parting with it. A fairly secure way is to wipe the computer completely clean (ie reformat it) and then to reinstall Windows (or Linux) and any programs. That’s not a realistic option for you to do, and it’s not economically viable for me to do for you at no charge. Lambeth Techaid will remove all your data for you, but you may not feel comfortable with strangers doing this (but I have no qualms about Lambeth TechAid, having visited them recently). For any pedants out there, I do realise that even reformatting is not a complete guarantee that data can not be recovered, but let’s not get paranoid.
So, is there anything I can do to help with secure data deletion? If you find yourself with a redundant laptop that’s got life left in it yet, and if you have used my services somewhere in the process of replacing it, then I will take the laptop off your hands, do my best to remove your data from it, and then deliver it to Lambeth TechAid. The way that I clean the machine is to create a new user, and then delete all previous users. This deletes the data of those users provided that the data was stored in places expected by Windows and Windows programs. I would also have a look to see if there’s anything stored in any unexpected places, but I couldn’t guarantee finding it all. After deleting all the data, I would then run a program that wipes all the deleted data by overwriting it. Not being so familiar with Macs in this area, I would just have to play it by ear (to begin with, anyway).
If you want to dispose of a laptop yourself, or If you have a desktop computer to dispose of outside Lambeth, then have a look at The Restart Project. This lists resources for people living everywhere from Buxton to Birmingham to Brighton. They currently list eight options in London, including Lambeth TechAid. If you are concerned about not letting your data out of your sight, then you could remove the hard drive (or SSD) before donating the machine. This obviates the need for any data wiping and leaves you with what amounts to a data archive. It does, of course, make the computer slightly less useful as it will need a new drive, but Lambeth TechAid tell me that, as far as they are concerned at least, they would still welcome donations of computers without a drive. This is not a problem when donating old mobile phones or tablets as they can fairly easily be reset to factory settings (ie “as new”).
Now is definitely the time to act if you have old hardware that you think could be useful to others.