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I recently unpacked some old stuff from the attic, and found a laptop from a company I left around 10 years ago.

Am I allowed to keep and use it? The company never asked for it back, and as I said it has been around 10 years since I was with that company.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Feb 24 at 12:17
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Strictly speaking you should contact the company, let them know you have it and ask what they want you to do with it. If you want the squeaky clean approach this is the one to take - they may still tell you that you can do what you want with it of course, as it's probably not worth their time organising for it to be collected.

In practice, it's a crappy old laptop and no-one will care what happens to it. They probably wrote off its existence years ago. Only thing they'd do is bin it - so sure, you can just use it if you want (if it's that useful to you of course - hardware much better than that is routinely binned.)

There's just 2 things I'd be mindful of:

  • Make sure the laptop is free from any company data (including company licenses for software), preferably format it before use to be sure;
  • Don't sell it.
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    The company may want it back just to ensure proper procedures are followed in getting its harddrive sanitized. The proprietary data on a laptop is potential more valuable (or risky) than the laptop itself. On the other hand, if they had such procedures, they probably would have been more diligent in getting back from OP. – Seth R Feb 23 at 21:30
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    @SethR I think that's still a completely legitimate point though. The monetary value of the laptop may effectively be zero, but the data on it may be "priceless" from a privacy or regulatory standpoint. I've worked for tightly regulated employers who somehow didn't realize I had company equipment at home when I left, so I wouldn't take it for granted that every employer who cares would have already reclaimed the laptop (plus, maybe they tried, but couldn't get in touch with the OP). – dwizum Feb 24 at 14:14
  • Why Strictly speaking? – tymtam Feb 24 at 22:45
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    @SethR after 10 years: the old employer rather wants that laptop to stay gone. – Pieter B Feb 25 at 9:19
  • Formatting does not wipe the drive – user114956 Feb 25 at 9:21
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By all means talk to your old employer.

I had almost the same happen. In my case it was an old desktop I used for remote acces when I worked on the mainframe. This was two mergers later and about 18 years after I moved to web/desktop development.

In my case my last supervisor had me remove the hard-drive (a whopping 80MB device) and send to him. The computer itself was and old windows NT box. The only software on it was a VT100 terminal emulator and the remote access (before VPN) which didn't even have an endpoint to talk to anymore as we'd been off the mainframe sine 2002.

I met him for happy hour one night and gave him the hard drive. The remainder of the computer went to my communities electronics recycling event.

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The value of this laptop is exactly zero. It's rather pointless for you and the company to spend more than zero seconds effort to get the laptop back to the company.

And as no good deed goes unpunished, depending on how unreasonable the person taking care of hardware at the company now is, you might be accused of theft, or the person who should have received that laptop years ago can get chewed out for losing the laptop.

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  • ... but contacting the company is still the right thing to do. – tymtam Feb 24 at 22:42
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    "And as no good deed goes unpunished" - is there data to back it up? I'm asking because my life experience is different. – tymtam Feb 24 at 22:43
  • @tymtam It is a set phrase. In many cases it would be fine for both parties -- in some, the person in the position of the OP can be screwed over by contacting the company. I think what the answer is saying, is it really worth that risk? -- So there would be no real data to either support or refute that claim. – さりげない告白 Feb 25 at 3:58
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By all means, please destroy the laptop.

At the very least do not let your old employer know.

If there's personal data on that laptop, and you tell your old employer, you just made your employer aware of a data breach. Having a data breach can have serious consequences for your employer, depending on where you live these can be fines or having to notify all the people who were affected in that data breach.

For all intents an purposes, it's best for your old employer to never know anymore about that laptop. Come on: it's been 10 years.

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