Work PC – Personal Data – some tips

Protecting Private Data on Emory Computers

We all know that our Emory Law computers belong to the law school. However, the nature of work and life has changed so significantly that it’s essentially impossible to keep from using the work PC for doing some personal work and vice versa. However, it’s important to understand how to protect your personal data and to understand ways to keep your personal data and work data separate. This is becoming even more complicated as we move towards storing more data on servers and less data on local hard drives. The computer in your office belongs to the law school. The data stored on the computer also belongs to Emory. So, where does that leave you? Suppose you leave Emory. What will you do about that data; and have you prepared for that eventuality?

In this post, I discuss three separate but related topics: external storage (including cloud storage), personal web-mail services, and private web browsing. I conclude with a reminder about ELS IT’s role with regard to private data.

Three Kinds of External Storage

USB Flash Drive

The easiest place to stick miscellaneous files is an external USB “thumb drive“, “flash drive” or “jump drive”.

Thumbdrive image

This is an image of a modern thumb drive. They are sold anywhere that electronics are sold. It’s possible to find good deals on them at or at or many other retailers. An 8GB flash drive is generally more than enough storage for your pictures and files. It can also hold 1,500 to 2,000 mp3 files or 4-8 hours of video.

Get in the habit of plugging this into a spare USB port when you come to work and unplugging it and taking it with you when you go home.

USB Hard Drive

External USB hard drives can hold huge amounts of data, from 80GB to 500GB or even 1,000GB (1TB) or more. They are more expensive than a thumb drive and are also less convenient to carry around with you. Follow this link for some sample external hard drives from Newegg. External hard drives seem like overkill to me – it’s difficult for me to imagine that one would have so much private data on a work computer that it would justify lugging around external drive. However, that’s just my opinion. 🙂

Online Storage

The third option is to use online storage. This can be done in a variety of ways. One easy way to obtain a significant amount of online storage is to sign up for a Google Docs account. Google Docs is a wonderful way to free yourself from the limits of using a single computer. You can learn more about Google Docs in the tour offered here: Google Docs is designed to allow you to edit documents online. As such, it won’t allow you to upload MP3’s or very large documents from your computer:

However, if all you want is to have a place to work on standard Office documents other than your employer’s hard drive, then Google Docs might really fit the bill. It also has some other really nifty features, such as the ability to share uploaded documents.

If Google Docs isn’t the right solution for you, you might consider using, DropBox, or other online file-storage services. provides 1GB of online storage for free. You can store any kind of content that you would like in and you can also share it out. There are options to upgrade to paid options – but the pricing gets fairly expensive fairly quickly, especially if you are comparing the prices to the price of a thumb drive. Microsoft has also entered this space – they tout 25GB of frees storage: . For a round-up of various online storage providers, see this LifeHacker article. Although it is somewhat dated, it lists several services and you can take a look at them and decide which ones you need.

Don’t use your work email for personal business

Wait a minute – all of this was caused by needing a place to store pictures of the grand-kids on your PC because they were sent to your work email address. Don’t do that. Create a separate, personal account for personal emails. There are a multitude of web-based services available to you: Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc. Pick one – and make sure that you tell people to send personal email to your personal account. I would choose Gmail myself, because then I can use the same account for Google documents and Google chat, but that’s just me. Pick one that you’re comfortable with and use it. Don’t mix your work email and your home email and you won’t need to save personal attachments to your work PC.

Here’s another tip: if you need a place to save documents, just email them to your personal email account. That way, you’ll have a back-up. Now you can copy your document to a thumb drive, remove it from the work PC, and go on your way.

Private Web Browsing

This is a separate but related topic. Let’s say that it’s your lunch break and you need to pay some bills online at your bank. What do you need to do this? Well, your work computer, its web browser, a network connection, and not much else. However, you would rather not take the risk of having your bank account password compromised, or your office-mate learning what gift you’ve ordered for her. What’s the solution? Use “Private Browsing Mode”.

Private Browsing

This example is taken from Firefox 3.5 on a Mac.

Here’s an image from a PC:
Private Browsing on a PC

Internet Explorer offers something similar, but for a lot of reasons I much prefer Firefox and so any browser examples in this article will use Firefox. Private browsing mode will not save any information about your browsing session. Once you’re done with your private transactions, you can turn private browsing mode off to resume normal browsing. Read more at the Firefox homepage to learn the details.

ELS IT’s role with regard to personal data on Emory Law computers

We hate having to deal with personal data. 🙂 We don’t want to see it or read it and we certainly don’t have time to deal with it or space to store it on our servers. If you must store personal data on ELS PC’s, it’s your responsibility to figure out a way to back it up to some other device or service. We hope that this article has given you some ideas on ways to manage this new world of intersecting work/home obligations.

Share your own thoughts in the comments section below.


Good article about what to do if you need to get personal data off your work PC after you’ve left employment: This article inspired the current post.

How to back up your iTunes library to a DVD or CD-ROM:

General productivity tips: This really doesn’t have anything to do with your personal data per se; it’s just an excellent web-site about productivity and organization.


2 thoughts on “Work PC – Personal Data – some tips

  1. Michele says:

    These kinds of tips are helpful, Ben. Thanks for distilling the info. Do the same with more topics, please–mp3s, definitions of IT terms, software, etc.

  2. bjchapm says:

    Michele – Thanks for reading! Let me know a little more detail about what you would like to see and I’ll be glad to write something up. Ben

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