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Scrubbing Your Hard Drive; Going Online to Complain

Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page F07

I am finally getting a new computer and would like to donate the old one to charity. But I have been told that the information on my old PC cannot be completely deleted.

True, simply deleting a file does not destroy its data -- it only erases the records of its location. The file becomes the equivalent of a library book dropped on the floor, readable to all who stumble across it.

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Various third-party programs, however, can scrub out every trace of a file or folder; for example, Sure Delete (www.wizard-industries.com/sdel.html) will vaporize selected items in Windows 98 or newer. (This same feature is available in Mac OS X Panther; put a file in the Trash, then select "Secure Empty Trash" from the Finder's File menu.)

Another option is to use the system disc that came with your machine to reformat its hard drive. Select the option of a "low-level format" (it may also be labeled as "zero out all data") to ensure that the drive is scrubbed clean.

I've gotten jerked around by this company and want to complain to the upper management. How do I reach them?

Go to the company's Web site and look for an "about," "company," or "corporate info" link, which should either detail its management or link to another page with that information (look for titles such as "leadership" or "management"). The company's street address should appear on the original about/company/corporate-info page, or maybe under a "contact us" or "directions" link.

When you write to the company, document what it did wrong and what you're expecting in return. There's no guarantee that your complaint will be read, much less acted upon, but the better-run companies should pay attention to a well-written complaint.

-- Rob Pegoraro

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or rob@twp.com.

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