Despite the warnings, policies, and tools to do such, people (and businesses) are not taking precautions when disposing of their hard drives, a recent report by storage forensic company Disklabs claims. Quite true, too. Often when I buy used hard drives or are given used ones to recycle, they aren't even formatted. With the increase reliance of and use of computers at home and work, the danger of casually tossing them out is becoming more and more common. ID thieves used to do what was called “GIRK'ing”, essentially digging in garbage cans to find papers with sensitive information on them. Now it's easier than ever to harvest old hard drives at garage sales, business closeouts, auctions, and more. Buy a used computer off ebay, bam, instant digital dumpster to look through. The report says that out of 100 hard drives and 50 memory cards, they were easily able to recover personal documents including resumes, letters, photos and in some instances, even login names and passwords for websites.
There is a limit to how much can be done by a person, however, short of physically destroying the disc. Most people don't have tools to format their discs properly (for instance, Windows format does nothing beyond clearing the file index and checking for bad sectors). Perhaps in the future, hard drives will come with a “destroy data” button for when it's time to kick them to the curb.