The risk in disposing of electronic devices

When you buy a new electronic device, do you consider how you will dispose of it?

When your computer dies there are implications for identity theft if you do not dispose of it properly.  You may have heard about hard drives from disposed computers being examined in distant countries to discover the identity of the original owner, whose bank account is then plundered or their credit cards are used to purchase multiple items before being stopped.

This is my latest post in my series on fighting for consumers.  Is it worth purchasing electronic devices that will fail in a short period of time with the difficulty of disposing of them safely without the risk of identity fraud?  Consumers need to add this to their pre-purchase ticklist when buying electronic devices.

My Tesco Hudl tablet has been playing up for a while with a periodic blank screen.    Tesco stopped selling them two years ago and there is only a very basic telephone support level maintained.  When I phoned today, there is nothing can be done when the screen goes blank.  I was advised to take it to a local technical support outlet.

This shows the importance of backing up one’s data because your device might fail suddenly.  As I knew the Hudl was failing, I had removed my documents and pictures, etc.  However, what about my personal data and access details to various online resources?  Are they still on the Hudl?

Tesco’s online Hudl support helpfully points to ‘For further information on safely disposing of mobile devices, please click here.’  This, of course, alerts the consumer to the dangers of disposing of electronic devices, and the danger of identity fraud and identity theft.

This topic should teach consumers about the need to develop online storage and to begin using your devices simply as terminals to work online, so that when your device fails 1. you will be able to dispose of it safely and 2. your information is backed up online.  You should aim to have multiple synchronising backup sites.

This issue is rather similar to the disposal of industrial waste.  The environmental lobby complains about building nuclear power stations which require years to decommission them, but what about decommissioning wind farms?  The turbines have an average lifespan of 25 years, so what happens at the end?  Some schemes have decommissioning costs built in, but the early schemes did not, so when the turbines failed or were found to be faulty, there was no money to decommission them.

Should retailers of electronic devices be expected to decommission these devices when they die?  Probably not. 1. This would cut out many overseas retailers.  2. Is it any safer to hand over your dead electronic device to a retailer than to decommission it yourself?  Yet, how does one do it oneself?  Throwing it away does not prevent it arriving at some foreign destination to be examined for identity fraudsters?  We are told that one needs expert computer knowledge to completely delete a hard disk of data.  Besides, the ordinary person wants to salvage their data before decommissioning it.

Built-in obsolence is a technique whereby designers build in failure after a period of time so that consumers will have to buy a new product.  The EU is trying to address this problem, but it is obviously related to identity fraud when millions of electronic devices are failing on a regular basis.

Proposed solution

This problem is not going to go away and it is increasing.  There needs to be a method for consumers to safely decommission their electronic devices, and possibly local authorities should set up a service point which enables consumers to do it themselves to their own satisfaction.

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