I am having a bit of a go at the charity sector this week. You may have noticed. I also had a pop at Basingstoke purely for fun along the way. So here I go again whilst in the grip of man flu. If a charity collects your old WEEE, as some do, who pays for the collection? Who provides the (necessary) paperwork? Yes, you’ve got it again, someone is being conned here.
It may be the poor sap who has volunteered to collect your stuff using his own petrol and his very clean Volvo. It’s clean because he polishes it every Saturday morning of clourse, and he probably has a blanket in the back to protect his carpet from your disgusting IT waste. I am sure he was very nice, polite and helpful, but he is breaking the law. So are you by the way. I think. Let me explain.
Well, for a start, this is waste. You are throwing something out, for free, and that makes it waste. In this country, to transport WEEE, you have to have the right licenses and paperwork, and our nice OAP with the Volvo should be providing you with a Waste Transfer Note. Some of the stuff he is taking from you may well be classified as hazardous. Monitors for instance are so classified, as are laptops because of the screens. So if he is caught transporting it without the paperwork you are caught disposing of your WEEE illegally. Fined, send them down bailiff, next case.
Ok, this is probably not the most serious crime in the world, and the chances of you falling foul of it are pretty slim, but I just thought you should know. And the Volvo driver should know too. His insurance almost certainly will not cover him for his bit of charity work.
But isn’t this clever? Now our charity has your old PC back at the ranch. For nothing. And having made no specific promises on how they will eradicate your data from the equation, what they do is use either a ripped off (and therefore ever more out of date) version of decent software, or use one of the products available off the shelf which are ok but not fail safe. I say ok, because I cannot deny they wipe disks and put a zero in every cell, but this is retrievable. It is not totally safe because it can be recovered. You will have to decide whether this is good enough for you, and whether the ICO will agree that, in the event of a data breach, you have done enough to protect your data. The fine is only £500k.
Our software is bang up to date Infosec 5 rated software from Tabernus. This does three wipes with total random combinations of 0’s and 1’s. It rejects any hard drive that has damaged cells which cannot be overwritten (and we destroy them) and there is no known way to retrieve data after this process. Says who I hear you cry? Says GCHQ and the FBI, that’s who. And we pay a license fee for every hard drive we wipe.
But back to the charity. Now they have your computer, for zero cost, and they have wiped it for zero cost, a depth of service which should help you all to sleep well at night. So what do they do with it all now?
Well, some must carry on down our road and remarket it, for cash. EBay. Maybe they sell as job lots to brokers, but legitimate brokers are very choosy. They only take what they know there is a market for. I would estimate that the average price for an old desktop is under £50, and this figure is only so high because a good machine, with a high specification, can still be worth hundreds. If we took them out of the equation, your bog standard 3 year old PC is worth maybe £25 tops.
Now when you have shelled out precisely nothing that is really not so bad, I suppose. The charity has turned your rubbish into £25 with the help of a willing volunteer, and you’ve got a service of sorts. You might even get a certificate of data destruction I suppose. Maybe, maybe not. But for 99.99% of people this is job done, no come backs, you think you have done a good thing for the world and the charity, good bad or indifferent, has £25 to do whatever good it says it will do.
The other scenario is that they do not flog the PC entirely legitimately in this country. Instead they flog it to some bloke who gets it from them when the shed is full. He takes everything and pays a nice lump sum. Say £200 a pallet. This is great because Del-boy doesn’t really care if it all works or not. He just loads it all up, counts out the notes and disappears.
And this is the stuff that really annoys me, because this is the stuff that goes to Africa and will end up in landfill, as sure as eggs are eggs. And eggs are bloody eggs you know. Even if a charity is sending stuff to Africa legitimately, to help a school or whatever, and this is authorised, when this stuff packs up it is not going to be sent back to Tunbridge Wells is it? Now the people behind European WEEE regulations, the Environment Agency and such like, ought to be seriously dischuffed about this sort of stuff...and guess what, they are. There is even an EA taskforce trying to catch the people who do this under the counter, and I sincerely hope that the people who authorise the legal export of used IT equipment are considering landfill too.
Once again, I must emphasise that I am not against charity. Not legitimate ones. If they are fully authorised to send this stuff abroad, I may not like it but all I can do is write letters of complaint and campaign against it. But a lot of charities are fronts with profit making businesses behind them. A lot of them are not doing what they say they are doing. And whilst they are (allegedly) lining their own pockets, they are risking your data and ruining this planet for our children.
I am against that. How about you?