Clearing personal information from Windows 10
February 16, 2017 7:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to leave a job, and with it a Windows 10 PC. What's the best way to make sure all those myriad little bits of information it's gathered about me are removed, given that I don't have admin access and wiping/resetting isn't an option?
posted by monkey closet to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Most everything is stored in
* c:\users\yourusername and
* c:\users\yourusername\appdata, which is hidden by default.

To get to various folders, press the Start button and type the word 'Run,' then type one of the following:
* AppData: Type %appdata% in the Run command. Go up one directory so you see Local, LocalLow and Roaming. If you're completely done with the machine, clear as much inside those directories as you can. (Just delete everything if the system will let you.)
* c:\users\yourusername: Type %userprofile% into the run command
* There might also be some data in C:\Programdata, which you can get to by typing %ALLUSERSPROFILE% in the run command.

A couple notes:
1. All of this deleting can be recovered using a file undelete utility. There are utilities that perform a secure delete, but I think you need to be administrator for them to work.
2. If someone tried to use your user profile after you were gone, they might run into issues getting applications to work. No one should be doing this, so just make sure you're not coming back for any reason.
3. If IT staff try to login to your machine as you and open apps, it will be obvious that you deleted stuff. There really isn't any reason that they should do this, and most places don't, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.
4. If you have an Outlook email archive on your PC, it will get deleted in this process, and some shops may want to keep it. (If they're relying on recovering that from your PC, they're doing a poor job).

Hope that helps!
posted by cnc at 10:01 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


If you're worried about files being recovered after deletion, you might try to use a secure deletion utility for this. Also, make sure as many programs as possible are not running if you follow cnc's advice, including the ones that hide in the system notification area; sometimes running programs will lock files and make it difficult to delete them.

If you want to leave the account in a usable state, I'd delete any sensitive files/documents I knew about and then clear browser history, cache and favorites. This only takes care of obvious stuff though, and there's plenty of other stuff that could be left behind.

All of this being said, unless you're very familiar with the capabilities of your IT department, it's usually best to assume that they can find out about or can access anything that you use your computer for while you're working for them, not just when you turn the hardware back over to them.
posted by Aleyn at 10:10 AM on February 16, 2017


To add to Aleyn's advice, clean your browser's Cookies as well. (Just clear everything from your browser). If you take a chainsaw to everything like I mentioned above, all of that gets deleted. But if you're a little more nuanced about it, make sure you delete browser Cookies or someone could use your browser to login to websites as you.
posted by cnc at 10:15 AM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


Thanks all! There's nothing really worrying that I need rid of, so the nuclear options may be overkill, and I don't see the need to securely delete. Just wanted to make sure I'm logged out of everything...
posted by monkey closet at 6:09 AM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ask your IT staff to help.

I am always happy to show my people my process. I use DBAN on anything that lands on my bench. I always rebuild anything from scratch that's going to another user.

This said, if someone is concerned, I will delete their user profile while they watch.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:10 PM on February 17, 2017


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