Just like there are right ways to save data, there’s also right ways to delete data and they might be more complicated than you think. In this episode of the Kennedy-Mighell Report, hosts Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell discuss best practices in deleting and destroying data. Whether maintaining an organized filing system or using software deletion tools, Tom and Dennis review what it looks like to effectively get rid of information you no longer want or need. They also share what stood out to them in Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet Trends Report. As always, stay tuned for the parting shots, that one tip, website, or observation that you can use the second the podcast ends.
Have a technology question for Dennis and Tom? Call their Tech Question Hotline at 720-441-6820 for the answers to your most burning tech questions.
The Kennedy-Mighell Report
How to Delete Data Safely
Intro: Web 2.0, Innovation, Trend, Collaboration, Software, Metadata… Got the world turning as fast as it can, hear how technology can help, legally speaking with two of the top legal technology experts, authors and lawyers, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Welcome to The Kennedy-Mighell Report here on the Legal Talk Network.
Dennis Kennedy: And welcome to Episode #216 of The Kennedy-Mighell Report. I am Dennis Kennedy in Ann Arbor.
Tom Mighell: And I am Tom Mighell in Dallas. Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors.
Thanks first to TextExpander for sponsoring our show. Communicate Smarter with TextExpander. Gather, Perfect, and Share Your Knowledge. Recall your best words instantly and repeatedly. Learn more at textexpander.com/podcast.
Dennis Kennedy: And we’d also like to thank ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted, prescreened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high-volume serves, embrace technology, and understand the litigation process. Visit serve-now.com to learn more.
In our last episode we announced the winner of our big LinkedIn Connections Contests. No hints about that, you’ll want to listen to the episode yourself.
Two episodes ago, we discussed spring cleaning your personal data, hard drives, and online data storage, one of our conclusions was that, most of us keep way too much data for way too long.
And so in this episode, we want to focus on the follow-up question. If you decide to delete or destroy data and data storage devices, what are the current best practices for getting rid of that data?
Again, I’ll share some of my wacky approaches that I’ve actually tried, and Tom will point me to more reasonable approaches.
Tom, what’s all on our agenda for this episode?
Tom Mighell: Well Dennis, in this edition of The Kennedy-Mighell Report, we will indeed be discussing best practices in data deletion and destruction. In our second segment, we will visit a topic we talk about every year, the 2018 edition of Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report. And as usual, we’ll finish up with our parting shots that one tip website or observation that you can start to use the second that this podcast is over.
But first up, best practices in deleting and destroying data, in not our last podcast, but two podcasts ago, we talked about spring cleaning your devices, the follow up and overlapping part of spring cleaning is the actual deletion process. It’s actually pressing delete, getting rid of stuff.
So we thought we’d spent a little time talking about some tips and tricks for effectively getting rid of that information.
Dennis, as we were talking about this episode, you have kind of hinted that something I said in the last podcast may actually have been an interesting idea. Are you saying that I may have gotten you to change your mind about something?
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, actually there were many things that you said that got me to change my mind. And so, I’ve been rethinking my approach. As I reflected on what you were saying about how you were going to online storage and there was no need for all these USB drives and hard drives.
I was reminded of those classic stories of the early days when law firms would decide that they were going to scan all of their paper files and just have electronic versions but then they decided to keep all the papers as backups or sometimes, they scanned those things and then they would print them out.
And so, I kind of left myself kind of feeling that way. So I said, I really do have all of these things and I don’t need them all and I can streamline and that the online approach makes this and I’ll probably hang on to something local. But part of it was that a lot of this old stuff you don’t really need and you think you are going to go back to it and you never do. There’s sort of that hidden issue out there that we didn’t talk about that sometimes these old formats and old file types you can’t even access anymore anyway. And so it’s going to be more of a bother than you ever thought.
So I said, I am going to more of getting rid of this stuff and I just have too much data, too many places, lots of duplication. So we’ll dive into some of the things I did because I did some destruction and deletion before we made our booth.
But Tom, I guess, maybe it makes sense for you to go back and kind of review for our listeners your approach of really limiting what you call mobile storage or hard drive storage and then focusing on the online storage.
Tom Mighell: Well in terms of keeping storage and where we choose to keep things, I think you’ve pretty much described it is that I’ve tried to limit the places where I keep information and in my opinion having things on USB drives or portable hard drives, tends to multiply the number of silos or repositories where you could keep stuff.
And so, that’s why I’ve really focused on putting it in one online cloud service and for me that’s OneDrive, but it can be Dropbox, it can be Box, it can be any number of services that you can do and I also keep a backup, so I’ve got a backup online and I feel like those two copies are enough for me. Although frankly, I’ve got three copies of — four copies of everything so I’ve got a local copy on my home computer, I have a local copy on my laptop.
So I’m — feel like I’m lacking for copies of information but I find that it’s just easier to deal with and manage. And ultimately, I think that’s part of the thing is, is that when it’s time to start deleting things, I only have to go to one place to delete them and maybe that’s the topic we want to talk about today is, is that it just having it all in one location makes it so much easier to get rid of when you’re actually ready to push the delete button.
Dennis Kennedy: And I was to say, we probably should give the caveat since we have a lot of lawyers in the listening audience, that if you’re in a special situation like where you have a litigation hold and other things, I think Tom, this is more your area of expertise than mine, you can’t just say oh, I’m just going to delete a bunch of stuff.
So it’s a given unless except that there may be circumstances where you can’t delete or you have other policies or things. So let’s keep that in mind.
But Tom, I guess from your point of view and the records management information governance world, are there learnings from the enterprise level in terms of policies and procedures that maybe we should bring to what we do personally when it comes to getting rid of data and destroying the storage devices that run?
Tom Mighell: I hate to disappoint you but not really, and the reason is, is because if we’re just purely talking about personal deletion of information, the methods and the tools to do that on a personal level I think are really limited in terms of what you can do. I mean and here’s the reason why.
In the last podcast, we covered the basics that I think the best practice is to find a way to get information deleted automatically because we don’t have time to do it ourselves and when we come right down to it, we really don’t want to do it ourselves. That’s what I said the last time. And so, the ideal situation would be to find a tool that would automate the deletion process for you.
There really aren’t a lot of good personal tools that will do that for you. Now, we’re going to talk about some software deletion tools but they don’t perform initial deletion of files. They delete and help erase information in other ways.
Now, if you’re technologically inclined on a desktop you can create or at least in the past anyway, you can create batch files that run automatically on your computer and execute commands. So theoretically, you could have like a downloads folder that was routinely every time you started a computer would search for information that was at a certain age and automatically delete that information.
There’s not a lot of software out there that I’m aware of that will do that for you on a regular basis. You’ve got a — although frankly, with artificial intelligence coming as fast as it is, I’d be surprised if we don’t have something soon that can do something like that.
But frankly, I think, tell me if I’m wrong Dennis, I think that for your personal information, you’re going be relying primarily on manual processes. I mean I think that’s why having and if there’s any analogous situation from the enterprise, it’s why having a good filing system is the best idea.
For example, at the end of every year, I go into my financial records folder and I delete the subfolder with the oldest year. I keep financial records, a certain number of years, for tax purposes and then when I’ve passed that period of time that I need to keep them for tax purposes, I can get rid of them. And literally, it takes me seconds to get rid of a year’s worth of information because I named it correctly, because I put it in the right folder, it was easy to get to and I was able to get to it.
So I think that it’s largely a manual process, but to make it as simple as possible, you’ve got have a good filing system. You’ve got to know where things are, you’ve got to — like you said deduplicate, make sure that there’s not lots of duplicates out there. That’s kind of why the way that I’ve got things set up is working for me because I know where it all is and I can get rid of it very quickly.
Now, we’re going to talk a little bit later about I think how deleted does not mean deleted and really where I think we’re going with some of the software tools that can help with deletion. But I mean Dennis, are you disappointed by my lack of an analogue from the enterprise world? Do you have any ideas in that regard?
Dennis Kennedy: No I mean I think that, I would say the analogue might be what you were just referring to where you say, I have a practice of deleting things that are of a certain age or a certain type and it happens at the beginning of the year. And then, you may find tools like on Mac, I think a program like Hazel, where you could automate that a little bit so it happens automatically.
So I think that there’s sort of this — just a number of concepts that are probably important that you can bring back, how long should you retain something. You have a great example on the financial side.
So I think if you take those things, but I think yeah, otherwise at the enterprise level, wiping hard drives and do all those things are sort of like the job for IT and usually happens when you trade in a computer or if you leave a company.
So I don’t think you would typically get in to the nitty-gritty. So I think at the personal level, I think it’s just basically comes down to you have the ability to use software deletion tools and then you have some kind of physical destruction or depending on how cautious you are, a combination of both.
Tom, I think as usual, it always seems like we come down to the audit notion. So you want to start with just kind of get an idea of everything that you have and where things are at, look for duplication, but just get a good list probably of what you have and then you can start to make decisions about what it is that you want to get rid of.
And I thought maybe we just use the example of my move of what I did. So I had a several old computers so that I knew that I had done tax returns on them, so there was a danger of sensitive information on those. And so, it just became an issue of saying well I’m going to pull out the hard drive and I’m going to destroy it, which is actually as I went from older to newer laptops especially, it became much harder to get the hard drives out.
So not as simple a process as I thought and then I thought the tried and trued way of physically destroying hard drives was drilling them. A few broken drill bits later I was not real happy with the result and people told me you probably wouldn’t have a drill press. So I ended up doing and I’m sure that you’ll appreciate this Tom, because it is kind of a silly thing.
I had a pickaxe and I just went after the hard drives. And because I was getting rid of stuff, I had some hydrochloric acid that we’d used for something else in the years I’ve been in the house that I need to get rid of anyway and I just poured that on the hard drives, which is pretty darn effective when you see the magnetic part of the drive kind of disappearing up in smoke.
I don’t know how safe it was to breathe and then because I turned into a nut, I took the computers out to a place that did recycling and they actually use a hard drive shredder on them. So those are the combination, I would say probably that my experience from that after what I went through is probably that go into a place that just shreds the drives for you is going to be a good way to go.
So I don’t know Tom, I think I kind of went way overboard but I just went the whole physical side. I didn’t do the software side which is what a lot of people actually do.
Tom Mighell: I’ll make a confession. I’ve been really lazy about the hard drives that I’ve had. And most of the hard drives I have actually aren’t mine. I may be have one hard drive that I’ve kept from a computer when I changed it, but I’ve replaced my father’s computer several times, and I’ve kept all of his hard drive because I’ve been lazy, too lazy to do anything about it.
But I’ve seen too many presentations that have shown, here’s how not to physically destroy a hard drive. And I think you described everything that was on that slide just about; the pickaxe, the hammer, but they show all sorts of ways that this will not destroy your hard drive, this will not destroy your hard drive and then here’s the only way to do it.
And so I think my inclination would be is that if I’m taking a hard drive now, I’m probably going to first do some software deletion tools. We’ll talk about that more in a second and then I would take it to the service and I would actually, I don’t know if they let you watch it but I’d want to watch them shred the hard drive right there because I think that’s going to be your best bet to do that.
So have you not ever used any type of software deletion tool or anything like that before?
Dennis Kennedy: Well I think just one of those things that and we’ll talk about this is that when you start to use these tools, you see this come up fairly often is the fact that you’ve gone to such elaborate links to destroy data, you just look suspicious. So you find like in the computer forensics world, especially where you have employees stealing information that one of the key pieces of evidence is something they — somebody might have done something bad is that they’re downloading some of these software deletion tools, like one we’ll talk about called DBAN, and that becomes suggestive that you might be doing something wrong.
So I think that for some reason the software thing is a little bit less appealing to me but then also in my case, I had some computers that had been sitting around for a long time. I didn’t know whether the hard drives would spin. So the physical deletion kind of made sense for me because I wasn’t even sure that I was going to be able to get those things running.
But yeah, I don’t know. You read different things like you said that sometimes, I think all roads kind of read to the shredder. But I’ve seen recently and people don’t like — they don’t say, you definitely don’t want to throw in the river that sort of thing.
The acid thing, I read a couple of things that my approaches were not that bad. I still, I also like the approach I didn’t try, which would be to just get some of the stinkiest garbage you can find and just bury the drives in a trash bag with that and figured that if anybody goes, who is going to go through a landfill and do and try to get those that, they probably deserve the data anyway.
Tom Mighell: Yeah. I’m still going to come back to the software deletion stuff, because the idea of appearing suspicious has not ever particularly bothered me, and part of the reason is, is that at least there — at one point, there was a time where I was using it on a regular basis, just to keep my hard drive kind of clean and optimized.
And it seems to me that if you’re using it on a regular basis to delete information and stuff, then I think that if looking suspicious is a worry, then having a repeatable consistent process rather than buying the software once after the ominous event occurred, where law enforcement might want to look at your computer, it’s a lot — I think a lot more credible, a lot more defensible if you’re using something on a regular basis.
But I mean let’s talk real quick about how these deletion tools work. They scan your computer, they look for — they do a couple of things. They will go all over the unallocated space on your hard drive, they’ll wipe it clean, you can do this at a number of different levels and there’s so many tools that will do this, like Dennis mentioned there’s DBAN, there’s a number of other tools that are out there.
The real question is going to be is how many times do you want to overwrite the hard drive, the more you overwrite it, the more certain you are that you’re destroying information. You can get up to the Department of Defense level standards of quality.
Some of the tools will clean your computer registry, help it run a little bit better, clean up junk files that are left by software tools, some will clean up your windows. One of the tools that I used for a long time was called CCleaner. I thought it did a great job. It was a very easy to use tool that would delete stuff and kind of overwrite the slack space, the unallocated space on my computer, but it would do a great job with other stuff.
They recently have I think come under some fire and some negative press because they bundled some malware or something accidentally with their software which is free. At least, the basic version is free. So unfortunately, I haven’t used that in a while. I’ve kind of been a little nervous about doing it, but there is a lot of other tools.
You used to be able to defragment or optimize your hard drive by putting the stuff together but more recent versions of Windows are eliminating the need for that. So it’s not something that you’re going to necessarily be able to do the same way, I think Windows is a lot better at optimizing your hard drive than it used to be. You don’t have to make that a manual process on your own.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, and I think that it’s important to understand that just reformatting a drive is not going to do the trick. So what happens is that the software deletion tools are going to overwrite everything with the zero and then with ones and then so it becomes unreadable.
Now, take all this stuff with the grain of salt but there is a Department of Defense standard and what I find is that every time, I’m talking to the people in the computer forensics world, I guess it’s — they give you the feeling like no matter what you do, they’re going to be able to undo it.
But there is – it’s one of those trade-offs of you can overwrite a file so many times and then the odds of anybody restoring it, go way down. There’s a sense sometimes when I talk to our forensics friends that I would want to encrypt everything and then use these software deletion tools and then destroy the drives and bury the pieces and in some vault underground or something.
But so you’re starting to make a trade-off, so there’s that the total destruction of drives Tom, as you pointed out, sometimes you just need to destroy data files or folders, and there are tools to do that as well so you can be more granular.
And then I guess the two new things that are worth mentioning about because I think these kind of go outside your controls is what happens when you close or want to delete your online storage account. Are there special issues there and then the whole area of mobile devices, your tablet, your phones, other things like that.
So Tom, what are we seeing there?
Tom Mighell: Well, it’s interesting and I’m not sure I have all the answers about online storage accounts. For example, the Dropbox will tell you if you go and read their Terms of Service and their procedures that after you delete a document from Dropbox, they will permanently delete it from your account 60 days later.
And the real question that I have is, is that just permanent to you or is that permanent as in forever for everyone. I’m unclear about whether or not Dropbox has its own slack space where information may exist and there may be still be fragments of information there.
I would like to believe that when they delete it that deleted does mean deleted for them. I don’t believe you can run a good business model of a cloud storage solution and get away with keeping fragments of documents or not really deleting them. I think that would lead to a lot of problems.
So I’ve got to believe that but I don’t really see anything in the literature that tells me that that’s what the case is, but I think that’s one thing you want to be sure of but it’s a matter of — they talk less in terms of deleting it and more in terms of getting it back.
So if you delete it by accident then you have 60 days to get it back and recover it, but I think there is a way to delete it. I believe I’m going to choose to trust that they’re deleting it permanently. You know with your mobile devices, and your phones and your tablets, there are ways to reset that phone back to factory settings and many of you probably done that to either a tablet or to a phone when you’ve had issues with that.
Theoretically, that’s supposed to wipe everything clean. I would imagine that very similar to any hard drive, there will probably be remnants or artifacts of whatever you’d put on there. But again, it would take a forensic expert to be able to go in and get that information, but there are ways to erase it to where you can get as far as you can but I would imagine that there are still probably ways to capture information off those devices.
Dennis Kennedy: Well I mean to wrap it up Tom, I sort of have two thoughts. I think this is a great paranoia test where you could really test your level of paranoia. And so I thought I was okay, until I found myself back behind my house with the pickaxe, going after hard drive so I could kind of bump myself up a little bit on that.
So but I think it’s important to kind of look at these things and kind of assess what’s out there and then anytime you get the chance to talk to somebody, who’s a computer forensics person, ask them some questions, pick their brains see, what the current state of the art is on this. Because it can change over time and it’s a good way to understand what all they are capable of, which is probably another show in itself.
Tom Mighell: Before you move on to our next segment, let’s take a quick break for a message from our sponsors.
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Tom Mighell: And now, let’s get back to The Kennedy-Mighell Report. I’m Tom Mighell.
Dennis Kennedy: And I am Dennis Kennedy. What has become an annual tradition for many years now, analyst Mary Meeker publishes her massive slide deck for the year’s Internet Trends. This is an important event and this year’s Trends report is out. We always like to take a few minutes on the podcast to talk about what caught our attention.
Tom, what caught your eye this year?
Tom Mighell: Okay, so it’s amazing to try to cover this in our B segment and when we just don’t spend a lot of time here considering that her presentation is 294 slides, there is so much to choose from, so many different things. But I’m going to talk really quickly about the things that I thought were interesting.
Interesting to me that there’s zero growth in smartphones, that smartphone shipments have almost completely leveled out over the past year, which sounds like we’ve hit a plateau of people and having their smartphones. Internet users have increased but growth has slowed; however, there are 3.6 billion Internet users, more than 50% of the population.
Amazing to me that 50% of the world population is on the Internet. To me, what’s even more amazing is that the average person looking at a screen, whether it’s a computer screen or a mobile screen is six hours a day now and more than half of that is on a mobile device.
I will say that the talk about the growth and subscription services, that more people are moving to subscription services is interesting. I found it interesting that malware volume is up 10 times over the past two years probably not surprising but still that that number is kind of jarring.
There’s a lot of focus on China, how powerful it’s getting and how fast it’s getting powerful. I think that’s going to be a big issue, but what’s interesting to me, I am going to close out real quick. They gave some case studies of a couple of tools on the Internet and how they’ve changed how the workplace works and I’m just going to use two of them, Dropbox and Slack.
They found that use of Slack leads to a 32% decline in email usage, a 24% reduction in employee on-boarding time, a 23% decline in meetings and a 10% rise in employee satisfaction.
They found that Dropbox, use of Dropbox leads to a 31% decline in IT times spent supporting collaboration, 3.7 thousand hours saved annually by employees on document management and a 6% rise in employee productivity. I like those kinds of stats because they show that these tools actually have positive impact on people using them. And so it’s really intriguing and satisfying to be able to see this sort of information. Dennis, I’ll turn it over to you. What grabbed your attention?
Dennis Kennedy: Well some of the same things obviously, because I always find this report really makes me think and so sometimes it’s would be in ways that you don’t quite expect. So she was talking about the privacy paradox, she call it, which is — and she was discussing in different countries, how willing people are to share personal data.
So she compared China at say 38% are willing to share personal data and in the U.S. 25%. So your initial reaction is it shows that US were more privacy conscious but part of her conclusion was that this could become a competitive issue for the US in Artificial Intelligence, because we won’t have the same massive data banks of this information to turn AI loose on.
So that’s one of the things that interests me that and talking about voice which we’ve talked about is becoming big. But she was saying that Google’s machine learning recognition accuracy is reaching 95%, which is basically the same as humans, and was talking about the smart speakers and voice assistants, again one of our favorite areas.
But she was saying that the Amazon Echoes install base rose from 10 million to 30 million in 2017 which then drives developers to do even more voice because you have that voice platform. So as we say every year, this is really kind of the standard piece to kind of evaluate where we are on the internet.
And I think for our audience and the legal audience is kind of drawing some conclusions from those trends, and I think voice would definitely be one, can help you set your own agenda for technology for the coming year.
So now, it’s time for our parting shots. That one tip website or observation you can use the second this podcast ends. Tom, take it away.
Tom Mighell: So I’m not a person who — although I like the idea of having notebooks and having paper and being able to write in notebooks. I just don’t make use of them the way that I should, but I need paper from time to time. We were able to take notes. I’m usually taking notes electronically but I do want to have some paper, but not a lot.
And that’s why I’ve been extremely intrigued by the Everlast Notebook. Everlast the company has come up with a way of creating paper that is durable, that is more than paper, and so the Everlast Notebook doesn’t have a lot of pages in it. I’d say it probably has 15 or 20 pages total in it, with obviously two-sided paper but what’s nice about it is, is that when you’re done with what you’re writing on the page, you can take a damp cloth to it and wipe it clean.
It is an endlessly reusable notebook that you can wipe clean and use forever and so I’ve been carrying the small notebook around with me and wiping it clean when I’m done with it, but wiping it clean doesn’t mean you get rid of it because it comes with an app, it’s a smart notebook, it comes with an app that if you circle one of the symbols down at the bottom of each page, you can set up the app to store your notes. You can take a picture of your notes and it’ll store it in a Dropbox or in Evernote or in OneNote and it connects to probably 10 different services that are online, that you can keep that information then wipe the page clean, and you’ve got a digital version there. I am really loving using this.
You have to use a special pen but it hasn’t been a problem for me and they have a whole bunch of different versions of notebooks including one notebook that you can actually use that cleans itself by putting it in the microwave. It seems kind of crazy to me but you can — it erases itself by putting it in the microwave, but go take a look at Everlast Notebook. I’m really enjoying mine.
Dennis Kennedy: Tom, that’s made me think about the friction pens, which I’ve started to use a lot, which earlier used erasable ink.
Tom Mighell: Well, that’s the pen that Everlast uses, is the friction pen.
Dennis Kennedy: Yep. So you could use any notebook with the friction pen and then the friction pen has this cool thing as Tom was saying with temperature. So you can erase it, but you can use the temperature thing to put in a freezer and then put it in a microwave and you can have like invisible ink that will disappear and reappear right, secret messages.
So it’s almost like I should give the friction pen is my tip instead of what I was going to do. But my tip is release of OmniFocus 3 for iOS. My life is organized by OmniFocus. It’s the app I’m most happy to pay for and it allows me to do my to-do’s in a very sophisticated way based on primarily on the David Allen Getting Things Done approach. New version out, new interface, tagging, other features.
So if you use this tool already, there’s a time for Window, where you can get it for half-price for the update. If you’re thinking about going to one of these tools, this is a good time to do it, because you move to a new version. The version three for Mac will be out later this year but so far so good and in my experience, there’s some things I like about the interface and some of the new features that I think are going to be really helpful to me.
So OmniFocus 3 for iOS is my tip.
Tom Mighell: And so that wraps it up for this edition of The Kennedy-Mighell Report. Thanks for joining us on the podcast. You can find show notes for this episode at tkmreport.com.
If you liked what you hear, please subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or on the Legal Talk Network site, where you can find archives of all of our previous podcasts.
If you like to get in touch with us, please can connect with us on LinkedIn, and don’t forget our show voicemail number, it’s 720-441-6820. We would love to feature a question from you on our B segment. Leave us a question that we can answer on the show. That number is 720-441-6820.
So, until the next podcast, I am Tom Mighell.
Dennis Kennedy: And I am Dennis Kennedy and you have been listening to The Kennedy-Mighell Report, a podcast on legal technology with an Internet focus.
If you like what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts and we will see you next time for another episode of The Kennedy-Mighell Report on the Legal Talk Network.
Outro: Thanks for listening to The Kennedy-Mighell Report. Check out Dennis and Tom’s book, ‘The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies: Smart Ways to Work Together’ from ABA Books or Amazon, and join us every other week for another edition of The Kennedy-Mighell Report, only on the Legal Talk Network.
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