Are you sure you want to permanently erase this file?

People often delete the ‘stuff’ they don’t want to see, or the ‘stuff’ they don’t want others to see. But the file you deleted today, is that really deleted? No, of course not. It’s in the trash can folder. But what if you delete it permanently?

Is it really deleted?

If it’s not, where is it?

What is meant by Deletion?

When Stalin decided that trotsky was an enemy of the state, he had Trotsky removed from the photos he appeared in with Lenin. Plenty of online software allow you to do the same. You want to forget them? Just delete them from every picture you have.

But what does deletion means?

Removing. Right? Yes of course. Deletion is removing of files from it’s place.

When you delete a file, it’s removed from it’s it’s place and moved to a temporary directory called trash can.

When you empty the trash can, you are warned that you cannot undo the action. When you empty the trash can, the physical space inhibited by the file isn’t actually emptied.

It’s just marked as empty.

The space you emptied is available if and when new data or file needs to be stored in it’s place.

It has become an available real estate. BUT with the old occupants still inside.

The file you deleted, hasn’t really moved out. Only the pointers have gone away.


Pointers are another type of data on your drive, that point to places in memory, where the actual file they are referencing can be found.

The table of contents in your book is a good example of pointers. They point exactly where each chapter can be found.

This means that on most operating systems, deleting a file or emptying the trash, is like deleting a chapter from the book. Not by tearing the pages off, but by turning to the table of contents, and marking the chapter as empty.

To a computer reading the table of contents, the space looks empty, but that doesn’t change the fact that the contents of the chapter are still there.

Special Data Recovery Tools

The data recovery tools look through the memory marked ’empty’, to see what’s actually there. If the tool is good and if you’re lucky, they might find the file, save it, mark it available and undelete it.

But if some of the file has been over-written, there can be some problems in recovering the file. Your file might be corrupted or melded together with other data.

Few years ago, a laptop was stolen. The laptop belonged to photographer Melanie Willhide.

It contained many of her digital photographs. The laptop was handed over to Melanie as soon as the police found it.

The thief had already wiped the hard drive, and had been using it for his own purpose. Data recovery experts were able to find some of her files, which were now marked empty, but the files had been over-written. This, resulted in an exhibition by the photographer, which was named after the thief: “To Adrien Rodriguez, with love”. These are some of the pictures from the exhibition.


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