Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground

Last night was a slow night for I found myself clicking through a very interesting program. Frontline is a great series; last night's program was titled "Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground."

The show piqued my interest because when I was in B-school, I was in a class that was about socially related business issues, for lack of a better word. One of the classes was about how China was becoming the world's dumping ground for what is called "e-waste." This waste is related to old CRT monitors, keyboards, and computer desktop towers that were discarded by "the West." The reason this class stuck with me was because 1) it was interesting and made you think 2) there was almost a riot during the lecture since there were many disturbing images shown to the class. These images were considered inflammatory to my Chinese classmates. Images of children sitting atop massive piles of old outdated monitors, etc. were shown. Remember, we were in b-school, and China is the world's next economic engine. These pictures were humiliating to my Chinese classmates, who viewed the images as insensitive...

Well I digress, but the show was really interesting. Suffice it to say, our professor was not out to humiliate anyone (at least I don't think), but rather bring to light a very real and growing problem that flies under the mainstream media. It's not just China that receives all of these items, but rather, as the map above shows, many places of lower socioeconomic regions. Ok, ok, I have a point, and here's why you should care about this problem, beyond the obvious reasons.

Two Reasons Why You Should Care...Beyond the Obvious During one part of the segment, the investigators showed how people's hard drives are ending up in these distant dumping places. No joke apparently. I was skeptical, but low and behold, the investigators bought hard drives from folks in Ghana who got them by sifting through the garbage. (Apparently, if you melt a motherboard down, you can take the copper that is left and sell for about $1 USD. Since a hard drive can fetch money, this is obviously the hand of economics driving the people to look through the waste...) One woman purchased a hard drive, and plugged it into another computer to read its contents. There were pictures, credit card info, you name it. If you are surprised, don't be. The hard drive, with an operating system on it, is the computer...So you might think you're wiping the data, but the only way to truly wipe it is to physically destroy the platters in the drive. Easier said than done, as I've blogged about before..

The segment also showed one clip where they had found a hard drive from Northrup Gruman, a defense contractor. When they looked at the drive, they found, among other things, classified documents of government contracts won or applied for. Applying for government contracts is apparently a highly confidential process. The data was shown to the FBI's homeland security deputy, who promptly told you why you should care about this...To paraphrase:

"This is unbelievable. In the wrong hands, these documents would show someone how to infiltrate a government agency. Once you have someone you don't want on the inside, you don't have security."

There you have it. Check the program out, it's worth it just to show you how a seemingly innocuous decision made can leave ripples around our world and come back to bite you.

Link to Hard Drive Issue

Link to Hard Drive Issue

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

This is half entertaining. But then again I am very high right now