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Happy New Year! The holidays are behind us and chances are that you, your family members and your business associates likely received some new gadgets or electronics. That’s great, but it also means you likely now have an older gadget or device that is being replaced that you no longer want to use. Frustratingly, many people will simply throw those items way in the trash, which is not good for either the planet or the privacy of your data likely still stored on the device.  

Much has changed in the last 20 years. Back in 2002, 180 million people had a cell phone and very few of these were “smartphones.” They weren’t the pocket-sized computers we see today. Today, it’s estimated that over 5 billion people have a cell phone, many of which are the modern-day smartphones we’ve come to accept as normal. Of these cell phone users, on average, most get a new phone every two years — usually solely because they want the newest model. Things aren’t being held onto simply because they still work. People are choosing to replace them because they want newer phones, faster processing chips, and better cameras.

Everyone wants the best sound system, the clearest picture, and the newest TV technology. With virtual reality emerging, even more new electronics are being created. Just like the cell phone issue, old technology isn’t replaced because it’s broken; it’s replaced because we want something new, something better.

A major contributor to an increase in electronic waste is the trend of the Internet of Things (IoT). This has been happening for a while, which is why electronic waste has been considered the fastest growing solid waste stream in the world for 18 years and counting. Wearables are electronic waste. White goods, which used to just be considered steel scrap, now have TVs and computers embedded in them. Nest, Google Home, Echo, Ring, and even automobiles like Tesla and Prius have computers in them.

These devices make our lives easier, but it should not be forgotten that they contain our personal data. When e-waste is improperly and irresponsibly disposed of, it’s easy for hackers to steal confidential, highly personal information. We must responsibly handle hardware and the data that’s embedded in it if we want to avoid a sharp increase in cybercrimes in the coming years.

With the huge surge in people working from home as a result of COVID-19, cybersecurity is becoming an even more concerning issue. Now, previously regulated technology that was secure in the workplace is finding its way into unknown realms. It’s close to impossible to monitor where remote employees use their hardware and how they secure it when they log off. This opens up an entirely new channel for cybersecurity issues and increases the risk of hardware theft or misplacement.

Finally, we’ve been seeing an increasing surge of 5G devices. The switch from 4G to 5G is going to further proliferate the amount of e-waste that we see today. This revolution in and of itself will create the biggest turnover of electronics — even bigger than when TVs transformed from black and white to color or when analog switched to digital.

When the Environmental Protection Agency first stated back in 2002, it was beginning to emerge that electronic waste was the fastest growing solid waste stream in the world. But they probably didn’t think the trend would continue. But here we are, 20 years later, and the statement holds true. In order to make sure electronics are used responsibly, we need more stakeholders to get on board with handling e-waste in a responsible way, both from an environmental perspective and a data perspective. It must be our critical top priority to apply proper recycling methods for the environment while also creating safer disposal of personal information. In the coming weeks in this column we will share insights, tips and suggestions on how to make sure you and you business are doing that.

 

Kate Fazzini is CEO of Flore Albo LLC, an adjunct professor of cybersecurity at Georgetown University, author of Kingdom of Lies: Unnerving Adventures in the World of Cybercrime and has served as a cybersecurity reporter for The Wall Street Journal and CNBC.

John Shegerian is co-founder and Chairman/CEO of ERI, the nation’s leading fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company. The first five readers who send an e-mail to this address link will receive a free signed copy of John’s new book, The Insecurity of Everything.


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