Keep your private data safe from prying eyes at the repair shop

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No one enjoys taking a computer, smartphone or tablet to be fixed, but at some point we all face the prospect of schlepping some broken gear into a repair shop.

Complicating matters is that our personal and business lives are stored on these machines, as well as on Web-based services they’re configured to access. When you hand your hardware to a technician, you’re putting a lot of trust in that person’s hands: Will your data be safe?

“Safe” has two meanings here: Will you get it back intact, and will the repair shop’s employees look through your files? If you’ve got a backup of your information – and you do have a backup, right? – you’re good in terms of data integrity.

But what about the integrity of the technician? How do your protect yourself from prying eyes, unauthorized downloads or even espionage? Based on a recent study by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, you’d be smart to take precautions.

The study, spotted via Ars Technica, found that workers at repair shops snooped on personal data more than half the time. And if the owner of the gear was female, it happened more often than that.

It’s important to know that the study only looked at a dozen commercial shops where laptops with purposely disabled audio drivers were left. But the percentage of instances in which personal data was accessed – based on logging software installed on each computer – is concerning.

There are other interesting aspects about repair-shop privacy issues in the study, which is worth reading in its entirety at houstonchronicle.com/repairstudy.

If you’re a technologically adept person, you may be able to repair a computer yourself, depending on the issue. But for those who are not, or if the issue is beyond your skills, it helps to have a strategy to keep private things private when asking someone else to fix it.

I faced this issue last year when my 27-inch iMac developed a problem with its cooling fans. After my attempts to fix it failed, I carted it off to the nearest Apple Store.

But this personal iMac also…

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