April 20, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Skeletons on your hard drive

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to build in adequate tools to help clear data from every corner of their products' memories.

But some hardware makers said they can understand why software vendors don't make it easy for customers to delete every trace of their information.

John Frey, an environmental strategies and solutions manager at PC giant Hewlett-Packard, pointed out that when drives were easily wiped during the DOS era, people saw it as a liability rather than a benefit. Frey said hardware and software makers have made data hard to eradicate because customers have demanded that they do so.

"You have to consider: What is the benefit to ease of use versus what is the chance that users will do it by mistake?" Frey said. "We've taken the approach that we value our customers' privacy so much, why give anyone reason to doubt? If the disk drive gets to us, we shred it."

The IT market continues to hunger for everything from operating system software that somehow allows end users to completely delete their information, to more powerful wiping tools that do a better job in less time than the current products on the market. In the meantime, consumers will be forced to consider their best alternatives when faced with the decision to save, sell or recycle old hardware.

For Charles Smith, the founder of EDR Solutions, the problem isn't going away anytime soon. The company has developed the Hard Drive Crusher, a refrigerator-size contraption that punches holes in disk drives to make them harder to read. Though the Hard Drive Crusher isn't designed for sale to consumers, Smith believes people may want to take such drastic measures into consideration before parting with their old hardware.

"With the technology that's out there, who knows what people will be able to do in the future? I can punch a hole in the drive for now, but someday someone could still be able to read it," he said. "I think people want proof that the device won't be coming back online with the same data on it, and this is the best I can do."

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