Have you ever taken any ‘naughty’ photographs of you and your partner or made a video in the bedroom?
Do you think that deleting your photographs makes it impossible for others to see them? You’re wrong! We made this YouTube video to show you how easy it is and how to do the job properly. Press the play button to watch it now…
See How to Securely Delete Your Photos and Videos (below) for more detail on how to securely erase your memory card in the privacy of your own home using free software.
What Does Formatting a Memory Card Do?
First, I’ll tell you what it does not do. Formatting does not wipe all the data from the memory card. Even after formatting your memory card people could still see your deleted photos.
Formatting is designed to make your memory card ready for use by a camera or computer. The process does not involve securely deleting any files or photographs that already exist on the card.
Deleting doesn’t delete your photographs either! All deleting does is tell your camera or computer to hide the photo from view and to write over the top of the photograph when it needs to. However, depending on how big your memory card is and often you use your camera, it could take weeks, months or even years before it needs to do this – and your deleted photographs will sit on the memory card ready to be recovered all that time.
So Why Doesn’t It Delete My Photographs?
It takes a long time (sometimes many minutes) to securely delete photographs from a camera’s memory card. You’d be quite annoyed if you had to wait minutes every time you pressed the ‘Delete’ button on your camera, so most cameras don’t do this. Instead they simply stop showing you the deleted photographs when you scroll through your photos. The camera will know that the photograph isn’t needed any more and, when it needs to, it’ll overwrite the old photograph with a new one.
Okay, let’s be honest, most people aren’t going to bother securely deleting photographs and videos unless the images are embarrassing. You may have heard stories of people who have sold their camera in a yard sale only to have their old photographs recovered and shown around town.
And let’s say that for whatever reason you have decided to risk handing your memory card to someone else (obviously it would be safer if you kept this particularly memory card somewhere secure so that nobody ever had access to it).
There is free software available that will actually write new data over the top of your deleted images. You can think of this as being like scribbling over the top of something you’ve written in a thick black pen. If you haven’t already, scroll up to the top and watch the YouTube video we made. Here’s the written summary:
How to Securely Delete Your Photos and Videos
I currently recommend a program called CCleaner because it’s useful for all sorts of other things as well as securely erasing your memory card.
At the time of writing this article (2013) I have been using CCleaner almost every day for over five years and it was always been reliable and safe. Unlike other software I’ve used, it’s Registry Cleaning feature has never stopped my computer working or messed up my software. Of course, I cannot guarantee that it will work perfectly on your system so here’s the Standard Warning (that you will almost certainly ignore): You should always back up important data before you install and use any software just in case something goes wrong.
An Important Choice
First, you have a choice to make and it’s important.
We would normally recommend that you entirely wipe a memory card by following the instructions below. This most reliably ensures that all the data on the memory card is wiped.
But some people have said they want to securely erase all of the deleted photographs and keep others on the memory card for others to see. This is a more risky option as there’s a chance that hidden files kept on the memory card by your camera/computer could contain thumbnail versions of your embarrassing photographs. We would not recommend this option. Instead we’d suggest you find a better way to pass on the wanted photographs. Suggestions include burning them on to a fresh CD or DVD ROM, transferring them via the cloud or copying them on to a suitable flash memory card.
Ultimately it’s your call.
- Remove the camera’s memory card from the camera and plug it in to your computer. You’ll need a card reader of some sort for this. These are often built in to computers and laptops (or you can buy them cheaply on-line from someone like Amazon and plug them in to a spare USB port).
- If you have chosen to only erase the deleted photos while keeping the visible ones, go through the card’s contents and delete anything that you don’t want others to see. It’s a good idea to reveal hidden files at this stage in case any obvious hidden thumbnail files exist.
- If you haven’t already, download and install a copy of CCleaner.
- Launch CCleaner from your computer’s menu.
- Find the ‘Drive Wiper‘ utility in the ‘Tools‘ menu.
- Under ‘Wipe‘ either:
- Choose ‘Free Space Only‘ if you want to keep the files you can see (as shown in the video) and only securely delete those photograph files that are be left over from previous months. With this option you run the risk that hidden system files may contain thumbnails or other potentially embarrassing data that will not be erased and could be recovered by those with the know how; or,
- Choose ‘Entire Drive (All data will be erased)‘ if you want to totally erase the entire disk leaving nothing. This is the safest option as far as stopping others seeing your old photographs is concerned but risky in that if you choose the wrong drive, you’ll be erasing data that you probably want to keep. Please ensure you choose the correct drive!
- Under Security choose ‘Simple Overwrite (1 pass)‘. You might think it’s safer to choose one of the other options but those options are used with computer hard disks which require more through clearing to prevent people using sophisticated methods of recovering the data. With a flash memory Piriform (the makers of CCleaner) tell me that 1 pass is enough* to erase the data. Of course, the CIA might have advanced methods that could recover the data – but to be honest, if you have the CIA on your back you’ve probably got more to worry about than them seeing your home-made porn!
- Under Drives select your camera’s memory card. It’s vital that you get this right. If you are at all unsure about what you’re doing you should stop right here, close the program and seek help from someone who knows how to identify the camera memory card from the list.
- If you are sure that you have the correct drive selected, now’s the time to press the ‘Wipe‘ button. Remember there’s no turning back at this stage – once you click Wipe CCleaner will begin erasing your data in a way that makes it as good as impossible to get it back.
- Now you just have to wait. The wiping of data takes some time (which is why cameras don’t normally do it). When it’s done CCleaner will put up a message telling you.
- If you have kept some photographs on the card then, as a final check before you hand the card over, check your card and ensure you deleted all the files you wanted to delete. If necessary, delete any you missed and repeat the process.
- If you have erased the entire memory card then now’s the time to format the card within your camera to make it usable again.
- Under ‘Wipe‘ either:
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* This article was last updated in January 2013. As technology is aways changing, if you’re reading this in the future you might want to check out the facts to ensure they are still relevant to the hardware and software you are using.