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Should Apple Give Back Replaced Disks? 446

theodp writes "As if having to pay $160 to replace a failed 80-GB drive wasn't bad enough, Dave Winer learned to his dismay that Apple had no intention of giving him back the disk he paid them to replace. Since it contained sensitive data like source code and account info, Dave rightly worries about what happens if the drive falls into the wrong hands. Which raises an important question: In an age of identity theft and other confidentiality concerns, is it time for Apple — and other computer manufacturers — to start following the practice of auto mechanics and give you the option of getting back disks that are replaced?"
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Should Apple Give Back Replaced Disks?

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  • Always? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mastershake_phd ( 1050150 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @12:58AM (#21802940) Homepage
    Do you always get your part back at the mechanic? Aren't some parts "cores" used to make remanufactured parts? Just like PC drives?
  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @12:58AM (#21802944) Homepage
    Dave Winer learned to his dismay that Apple had no intention of giving him back the disk he paid them to replace.

    Does not compute. He paid them to replace it, not to replace it AND give back the old one.

  • Curious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sorthum ( 123064 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @12:58AM (#21802948) Homepage
    I was just thinking about this today. I'd expect that this would be the case for a warranty drive repair, but when the customer bought a new drive? The old part should definitely remain the property of the customer...
  • by Breakfast Pants ( 323698 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:06AM (#21802984) Journal
    But the guy in the story was paying, *out of warrantee*. Or did I read it wrong?
  • Re:Always? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by darkhitman ( 939662 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:08AM (#21803000)
    Do car parts have your social security number on them? No? Bit different, then.
  • Absolutely. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigstrat2003 ( 1058574 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:08AM (#21803008)
    If there's sensitive information on the drive, you have every right to want it back (especially if it wasn't warranty work). Apple deserves the highest possible mark of shame for this disregard for the security of their customers' information, it's absolutely not permissible.
  • Re:Always? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zakezuke ( 229119 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:09AM (#21803010)

    Do you always get your part back at the mechanic? Aren't some parts "cores" used to make remanufactured parts? Just like PC drives?
    Core charges, as with automotive parts, only apply to refurbished components. For example, when I replace my brakes in my car I buy calipers pre-loaded with pads making replacement a matter of
    1. removing 4 lugnuts x 2
    2. removing two bolts x 2
    3. removing one hose x 2
    4. Disc removal + machine shop x 2

    Financially it's on par with with pad replacement at a shop, but assurance of new rubber seals, and downtime is far less. If I wanted to keep the old ones, I'd buy new calipers which are often not pre-loaded. But I'm not a master of pad replacement and I support re-using of everything.

    For an HD, if i'm buying a new drive I would expect to have the option of keeping the old one. I would support recycling if it was an option.

  • by AySz88 ( 1151141 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:11AM (#21803020)
    I recently encountered a similar situation - my mother had dropped her cell phone into the pool, and it wouldn't recognize any SIM cards anymore. She had "insurance" that sent her a replacement refurbished phone in exchange for sending the old phone back (but the premiums plus "deductible" would have been enough to cover the cost of the refurbished phone, and far too expensive to trade in the almost-working phone, so it was a terrible deal).

    Unfortunately, she apparently had credit card info inside the phone somewhere (no, I don't know what she was thinking). I wasn't really comfortable with sending the phone like that through the mail, so we tried to get AT&T/Cingular to give up a way to unlock the phone to delete the card info or give us a way to perform a master reset (assuming that the functionality exists), but they refused. We sent it anyway, but I wish we could have at least reset the phone, if not kept it in its broken state (or maybe shown it to our local store that it was indeed broken or something...).
  • by Tmack ( 593755 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:15AM (#21803050) Homepage Journal

    ... Whenever you replace a part under warranty they take the old one. Not because they have use for it but to make sure you don't. Imagine an unscrupulous person who would call in "My drive is broken" then when the tech replaces the drive, he just turns around and sells the old one (which was fine anyway).
    Right, but if he payed for the new drive, then it was not a warranty replacement, it was a new purchase + install, so the old *dead* part should still be his. Basically, apple is doing what you described, but they are the unscrupulous person in this case, taking your money and the drive, then either getting the warranty $$ from the manufacturer (or more likely credit for another drive), or are simply wiping it and re-using it in the next victim's computer.

    I know when I worked in a computer shop, we left the dead parts on top of the computer to give to the user when they came back. Most would just tell us to toss the parts, so we had a big bin full of "dead" stuff, most of which truly was dead. We never kept things unless it actually WAS an issue covered by warranty, and then the customer got the savings passed to them. If this is truly happening, Apple has a nice scam going on.


  • by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:25AM (#21803102) Homepage

    Why did he send them sensitive data?!

    Maybe his disk drive was broken, so he could not take the sensitive data off it?

  • Encrypted FS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (45ttam.yrrep)> on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:26AM (#21803112)
    This is a good reason to use an encrypted filesystem if you can.
  • Apple should ASK (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:34AM (#21803156) Journal
    It would be good customer service to ask. I can understand the risk of abuse by giving customers 2 drives for the price of one, but at least one's options should be given up front. They could offer a transfer fee or a keep-old-disk fee or the like. Find a decent compromise.
  • Kind of a whiner (Score:5, Insightful)

    by giminy ( 94188 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:37AM (#21803174) Homepage Journal
    From the story, a few things appear evident:

    This Macbook was not under warranty, or the hard disk replacement would have been free.
    The $160 that the author is scoffing at isn't that outrageous if you consider that he paid for a hard disk and the labor to install it (though if his generation of macbook is anything like mine, replacing the hard drive is a snap. Still, using his auto analogy, mechanics get to charge you $100 labor to install your brake pads, even though it takes them only a few minutes).
    If he had demanded the old disk and made a scene, he probably could have gotten it back.

    I agree that saying that the old hard disk is theirs is lame as hell, and he's rightfully angry about that. It's probably the only point of the author's that holds water. There are alternatives to the Apple Store for repair, though. CompUSA was one (though it's now going out of business). There are other Apple Authorized Service Shops, like Ikon Solutions, and the old-skool Apple stores (privately owned ones, of which many still exist).

    I once decided to have an old iBook's hard disk upgraded. I took it to CompUSA (please don't snicker, the iBook was under warranty, CompUSA is/was apple authorized so it meant saving my warranty, and this was around the year 2000, before Apple Stores were everywhere). When I took it in, I simply asked to keep the old drive and they were happy to put it in a static bag for me.
  • Wait a second... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VValdo ( 10446 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:51AM (#21803254)
    What if the data on the drive can be recovered? What if there are credit card numbers and other personal information on the drive? Source code? Trade secrets? Does Apple really want to treat their customers privacy so shabbily? For what? Don't they already make enough money off the $160 price for the new disk?

    Here's another question for ya-- why didn't you use FileVault []? Y'know apple throws it in OS X for ya for *free* for a reason...

  • two points (Score:3, Insightful)

    by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @01:57AM (#21803294)
    Did he make it conditional up front to return the defective drive? If he didn't it was probably thrown on a pile with other drives making it impossible to return. The other point is I've dealt with surplus and most companies don't recycle intact drives the first thing they do is drill or punch a hole through the drive making them impossible to recover data from. I'm guessing that's Apple's policy like most major companies. There's an outside chance of people in the repair department pocketing the defective drive for recovery but that's a risk anywhere and has nothing to do with Apple.
  • Auto Mechanics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:00AM (#21803318)
    Auto mechanics don't give back your used parts out of the goodness of their hearts. They give them back because consumer law forces them to do so.

    A similar consumer law should force the return of replaced parts on computers, and don't expect Apple to change their mind about it until such a law is passed. And while they're at it, they should forbid under pain of long jail sentences, computer technicians from rifling through your hard drive for files of interest. I'll let the occasional child porn collector slip past this barrier in the interests of increased privacy from young geeks in the process. And I'd test them from time to time with decoy systems with files too interesting to resist by anyone who is pursuing through your personal data.

  • by thegrassyknowl ( 762218 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:07AM (#21803354)
    Apple can't claim the manufacturer's warranty on the disk if they can't return the failed unit after they replace it. It would be sensible if they'd charge a token fee to cover some of their costs and just return the failed disk. Of course, it's been out of his hands by just taking it to the service centre; who is to say they didn't recover some data *checks tin foil hat*.

    This is why I encrypt my disks. Everything. I've been doing it for a long time and I pay a considerable performance penalty for it. As disks get faster I need faster hardware to keep up. If a disk ever fails (or goes missing) I can live (mostly) safe in the knowledge that the data on it is junk to the next person without access to my super secret key.

    Why wasn't he using File Vault; it's standard and part of OSX. Sure, Apple probably have back doors but it's one step in the right direction.
  • by cyberjock1980 ( 1131059 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:08AM (#21803360)
    I'm sure everyone here remembers the geeksquad incident with people looking for porn and trying to compile a collection of all the porn they could. Or the guy this week that got arrested because a rep at CompUSA(I think) found kiddie porn on his computer while looking for pictures to put on a DVD to test the drive they just installed. It is in the nature of some people they are going to spy on other people's drives. Especially so here in the USA. Not sure why but people seem to be addicted with getting into everyone else's personal lives.

    Now, just because you got the disk back doesn't mean they didn't look over your data anyway. I always encrypt my drives completely with a FDE program. That way if it does fall into the wrong hands they can't do anything with it anyway. My personal opinion, if you don't want someone going through your drive, you should either:

    1. Take it to a repair center and watch them do the repair.
    2. Take it to a friend/relative whom you know won't go fishing through your stuff.
    3. Learn to fix it yourself.
    4. Replace it yourself and use those handy dandy backups(you did do backups right?)
    5. Suck it up and accept that some minimum wage freak is gonna go through all your stuff with a fine toothed comb looking for goodies.

    Now, #5 might not be a big deal if you have something like source code, they might not know enough about programming to realize what they have and how valuable it is if they wanted to use it against you. In the end, it would be great if the IT industry had some kind of checks and balances to keep everyone honest and separate those who are honest from those who are lying kniving thieves, but this is the world we live in. Until someone can come up with an effective way to keep everyone honest, FDE is needed.

    Me personally.. if I had a drive that wasn't encrypted I'd value the data and the cost of the replacement drive. If losing the data to the wrong hands could cost you millions of dollars, a $200 drive isn't too much to throw out yourself and replace. If it has no real value then why not RMA it? The choice is yours, so make it a good one.
  • by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (45ttam.yrrep)> on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:18AM (#21803398)
    Quoting the article:

    He got his supervisor. She insisted that the drive belonged to Apple, even though I had paid an inflated price to buy a new one. She showed me the language on the reverse side of the form I signed. It was even worse than she had said. There was no guarantee that the drive they had just put in my Mac was new! It might have been someone else's defective drive.
    I just can't sympathize with this guy. It's always important to read and understand the things you sign. He says "I think they should tell you up front, before they do the work, that you're not getting the old drive back." yet they did tell him up front. He didn't choose to listen, or in this case read. Who in their right mind signs a legal contract without understanding, or even knowing, what they are agreeing to? My parents taught me a lot of life lessons and two that come to mind here are:
    1. If you don't have an agreement in writing, you don't really have an agreement.
    2. Never sign anything without having read and understood what you are signing.
    Making excuses about "fine print" is just a way for lazy people to justify their laziness when it comes to reading a contract. This guy has no one to blame but himself.
  • Re:It's an option (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LoverOfJoy ( 820058 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:26AM (#21803432) Homepage
    That was my initial reaction, too, but I'm guessing that there is a separate flat rate price depending on the product. So for a desktop there might be one flat rate to fix whatever problem, large or small. There might be a separate flat rate to fix any problem a laptop might have, yet another flat rate for an ipod fix, etc. If that is the case, it makes sense to call it a flat rate even if it varies by product. If I call in for a repair on my ipod and they say the price will depend on what the problem is...unless I choose the flat rate option, in which case there is one price and they will do whatever it takes to repair it, including replacing it entirely if necessary. Would it make sense to not call it a flat rate simply because they charge differently if I were to send in an emac?
  • Mod parent up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mr_matticus ( 928346 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:47AM (#21803518)
    With the small, truck-sized caveat that axiom number 1 is entirely untrue, this is good advice.

    Number 1 should be rephrased to say "If you want to secure an agreement, do it in writing." As written, the converse is not true--an agreement without writing does indeed exist and has consequences all the time. It's like the mythical "it's not a contract unless I signed it" that also isn't true but will never die.

    Still, unless he requested the part back up front, that drive became Apple's property as soon as the replacement was installed. Also, unless it was requested and required that the drive be returned, there's likely no way it can be recovered. It got binned with the other bad drives.

    This is a simple case of whining because the customer didn't really know what the hell he was doing, when all he needed to know was right in front of him the whole time, not bound in some dusty, obscure location in an archaic form of legalese.
  • Re:What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EvanED ( 569694 ) <`evaned' `at' `'> on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:48AM (#21803530)
    This is standard practice in the industry; components replaced under warranty have to be replaced...

    Except that this was replaced beyond the warranty; it cost him $160. At that price I would expect to actually be buying a drive, not trading in an old one. 80 GB laptop drives on Newegg range from $55 to $88, which means that, at $160, installation is between $72 and $105. That's already fairly high, but I'm willing to grant Apple that they have to worry about breaking more, and need to have a profit too. But that price plus the old drive? That's voluntary highway robbery!

    It's his loss for signing the contract without reading it, but that doesn't mean that we can't sit back here and berate Apple for being stupid.
  • by etymxris ( 121288 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @03:31AM (#21803702)
    Contracts require "meeting of the minds". And again, there was a reasonable expectation that he would be able to keep his old drive, given that he was paying way over retail for the new one. You can't impose any condition you please just by burying it under 10 pages of fine print. Imagine buying a new car and getting ready to drive off when the salesman says, "Oh yeah, the ten page contract you signed stipulates that we get to keep your old car," when nothing of the sort was mentioned before. While it is typical to get trade in value for a car you are replacing, no one is going to accept such a trade in unless it is explicitly mentioned and negotiated beforehand. Maybe you had planned to give the car to your son, or sell it yourself.

    Similarly, it is typical that the trade in value of the old drive factors into the price of replacement and repair, but it must be made explicit. The exception is when replacing a drive under warranty. It is generally understood that a warranty guarantees you a working set of components, and so it would be expected that in replacing a component, the warranter keeps the broken unit to recover any possible remaining value and to discourage warranty fraud. However, this did not happen under warranty. The price for repair was much greater than the cost of typical drive, so there is no way that the customer could have reasonably expected that the $160 was based on the store keeping his old drive. I think the customer could easily win this in small claims court. He'd get his old drive and money back, and the store would get the replacement drive back. He could then his laptop to another store and renegotiate the repair of his laptop.
  • by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Monday December 24, 2007 @03:54AM (#21803806) Journal
    The only reason a mechanic gives you the option of retaining your failed car parts is because they are your property. You own them. You can do whatever you want with them. Make them into paperweights, industrial art projects, second opinions, sell them for scrap - whatever you want. They're still yours. Core charges or not, "Remove and Replace" != "Remove, Replace, Recycle."

    When I have my car serviced, I fully expect that all of my old parts are sitting in a pile somewhere, waiting for me to claim/disclaim them. Of course, my mechanic doesn't have me sign anything with annoying fine print on it before he begins work, like it seems that Apple does.

    But signed agreement or no, it seems like bad business. When a customer gives me a computer, or a TiVo, or whatever and asks me to fix it, every part (screws, dead fans, hard drives, bulging capacitors, whatever) I remove goes into a box. After the repair is complete, I offer whatever remains in that box back to the customer.

    Usually they decide that they don't want it, but until that decision is made then those extra/failed parts remain theirs.

    There's a couple of exceptions to this:

    Warranty work. Like exchanging a screwdriver at Sears, there's no expectation that one will retain ownership of the old item if it is being replaced under warranty.

    Contracts and agreements. In the audio business, years ago, we sometimes sold substantial upgrades to commercial PA systems which weren't at all broken, but which the customer just wanted to have work better or be more flexible. It wasn't uncommon to have verbiage in the quotation which would permit us to remove and dispose of all upgraded/displaced equipment in a manner we saw fit. The potential to re-sell (or re-use) some of this old gear was definitely a factor in the price of an upgrade, and it would generally save the customer some money if they'd let us keep the old gear. But without being upfront and telling them that it would be part of the deal, taking these old components would have been theft

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 24, 2007 @04:49AM (#21804024)
    In some of the past/historical circumstances cited keeping old parts has or hasn't been the right thing to do.

    HD's or any other memory/data retentive devices (cell-phones, PDA's, thumb-drives) negate all the past rules by simple virtue of the fact that they now contain content added since the manufacture/sale of the device. It's now more than the simple sum of its parts.

    Trade-secrets/proprietary commercial data, personal info such as SS and CC numbers, banking data exist on literally all said devices,. Acceptable, uniform and standardized protocols need to evolve to address this universal and growing problem.
  • Re:Remember kids. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pelorus ( 463100 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @04:52AM (#21804034)
    Actually for a smart guy, Dave Winer (and Robert Scoble) seem to have terrible judgement.

    First off, with going direct to Apple - retaining your disk is but a phone call away and a credit card charge. Really. Speak to Customer Services.

    If you decide to go to an Apple Authorised Service Provider (disclosure: I own one) then it's entirely at the discretion of the Service Provider. They can withhold the disk and ask you to pay for the charge Apple might levy for an "official Apple part" or you can go for a "third party" disk (cos, yes, they're all third party!) and get a new disk, at retail prices AND keep your disk!

    This isn't so much as a YRO item as a "Why didn't you ask for your disk back when you handed over the machine" item? Shouldn't Slashdot have a Bozo Alert category?
  • Re:Mod parent up (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (45ttam.yrrep)> on Monday December 24, 2007 @05:05AM (#21804082)
    Yeah, that didn't come out right. What my dad always says is that, "if you don't get it in writing, it doesn't mean squat." I didn't mean to imply that there can't be legal agreements between parties without having something in writing. But in general, if you don't know someone and they are promising a lot, it doesn't hurt to say "write that down and we have a deal" to see if they are serious or not. Both my dad and myself have run into numerous occasions with sales people who talk big and promise everything but then backpedal when you want to get everything documented before purchase.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 24, 2007 @05:12AM (#21804104)
    >Apple can't claim the manufacturer's warranty on the disk if they can't return the failed unit after they replace it.

    If the drive was under warranty, then why did he have to pay?
  • by pimpimpim ( 811140 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @05:38AM (#21804196)
    You are totally right with this advice, BUT:

    I don't know how fast you can read, but reading through the standard EULA is a hard task for most of us. It also depends on the product. When considering a DSL, server, or mobile phone contract I'll check first to see the rules on ending the contract (because this will be the most expensive part), and if they mention a Fair Use Policy or a way to cap data transfer above a certain limit, not to get into huge costs. The rest of the text I'll leave it for what it is. And the only reason why I read these things is because I had bad experiences in the past, otherwise I wouldn't have known about them.

    When consider buying a 8 euro headset, would I read the standard eula? Would you?

    Reading EULAs is a time-consuming activity that sometimes doesn't even help you further in knowing what you're up to because of the "encrypted" legal language. And you really need to know what you are looking for. In that respect, it is actually useful to read slashdot and especially forums on the product of your interest and get info on cases like these.

  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @06:11AM (#21804290) Homepage Journal
    What exactly does that have to do with Apple not returning the damaged drive? What if I want it as a paperweight? The reason for wanting it back shouldn't matter. Of course, that won't stop the fanbois from avoiding the issue that Apple was wrong in this instance.
  • Re:Curious (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pipatron ( 966506 ) <> on Monday December 24, 2007 @08:56AM (#21804784) Homepage
    So what was the $160 for?
  • Re:Always? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by msim ( 220489 ) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:22AM (#21804900) Homepage Journal
    ive never heard of trading in calipers like that either, alternators yes, engines, yes, gearboxes yes and even air conditioner compressors, but never calipers!!!!

    Meanwhile, bleeding/renewing the brake fluid at LEAST at when you change the brakes is the minimum you should be doing. Hell knows what condition the fluid is in. Oh and something people dont thing of that often is bleeding/renewing the clutch fluid, that stuff is closer to the motor and can get pretty disgusting pretty quickly.

    oh and merry fricking christmas!!!
  • Re:Always? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dubl-u ( 51156 ) <> on Monday December 24, 2007 @10:18AM (#21805204)
    Do you always get your part back at the mechanic?

    Under Michigan law [], yes:

    Requirement. Customers have the right to receive back all parts replaced, except those that must be returned to a supplier or manufacturer for warranty or rebuilding purposes, which the customer is entitled to inspect (MCL 257.1333).

    This seems like one of those duh-so-obvious consumer protection laws, as well as good business practice for anybody trying to appear on the up and up. Doesn't every state do this?

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