Ask Leo! #720 – How Do I Remove My Personal Data from My Computer Running Windows 10?

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Featured: Removing your personal data from a computer? Much harder than you might think. Also this week: Windows Defender's vault, and sending a document securely.

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How Do I Remove My Personal Data from My Computer Running Windows 10?


I'm very tempted to simply say you can't.

It's exceptionally difficult to do. Windows stores so much information in so many nooks and crannies, it's nearly impossible to know what to delete and from where.

Let's look at a couple of approaches.

The nuclear option

By far the safest approach is to wipe the machine and reinstall Windows 10 from scratch. That's really the only way to be certain.

You'll have erased absolutely everything — Windows, installed programs, data — and, most importantly, every scrap of personal data that might be on the machine. It's all gone, guaranteed.

That's what I recommend you do if at all possible.

Particularly with Windows 10, you won't need to worry about activation — that's tied to the hardware. All you'd need to do is download a Windows 10 installation disc, boot from it, and install, making sure to erase the hard disk as part of the process.

The downside, of course, is that everything will be erased, including the non-personal data. All the installed programs will be removed, for example.

Such is the cost of safety.

The least worst less-destructive option

If you don't like the idea of a reformat-and-reinstall, the only solution I'd consider would be the following sequence:

  1. Create a new Windows user account with administrative privileges.
  2. Log out of your existing account and log in to the computer using that newly created account.
  3. Delete the old account completely.

Once you've done that, definitely take the time to scour the machine for additional data you might have placed outside of Windows default locations. In particular, look at the various applications you have installed on the machine, and see where they have been storing data. You may find it in several different places.

Unfortunately, there's just no guarantee that absolutely everything you might consider to be “personal data” is removed.

Are you sure you wouldn't rather just reformat and reinstall?

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Where is Windows Defender's Vault?

Windows Defender found a threat (a Trojan Horse) and I sent it to the vault. This vault will have to be emptied eventually but there is nothing in the Defender to find the vault! Any idea where the vault in Defender might be?

Yes and no.

I don't know where on disk the files are stored. Fortunately, that doesn't matter, since you can use Windows Defender itself to manage the contents of the vault. Even better, you probably don't need to do a thing.

Continue Reading: Where is Windows Defender's Vault?

How Can I Send a Document to Someone Securely?

I recently had to send some very private identification papers over email. Now normally I wouldn't do this and I would use snail mail instead but this was very urgent and I thought I would take a chance. As far as I know, no ill has come of it but I was wondering what ways are there to send emails securely across all platforms and also be sure that the right person on the other end gets it?

I'm occasionally faced with this same dilemma. Either for expediency or convenience, I want to email something I wouldn't want to fall into the hands of anyone else.

While there are many approaches, there's really only one pragmatic approach.

Continue Reading: How Can I Send a Document to Someone Securely?

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