How to keep Apple Geniuses from pouring whiskey into your Mac

Filed Under: Apple, Data loss, Vulnerability

Whiskey glass, courtesy of ShutterstockPoor consumers.

Not only must we contend with Domino's Pizza workers passing gas on salami or Best Buy Geek Squads misdiagnosing and overcharging for simple cases of IDE cables unplugged from hard drives, now we also have to fret that Apple store Geniuses are going to use our hard drives for skateboards and/or destroy all our data if we're rude to them.

This latest bit of retail malevolence was reported by Gizmodo's Sam Biddle in his story "Confessions from the Most Corrupt Apple Store in America."

I can't resist giving a quick hit from the long list of malfeasances Biddle's sources allege: a store manager swapping computers in exchange for a stomach-stapling operation, stolen employee bonuses, and repeated destruction of devices and ringing up of new ones for employees and friends as fake customers.

Much of that is likely to interest Apple stockholders and fan boys/girls.

But what's of far greater concern to us, the consumers, is the idea that yes, any gadget you bring in for repair could be damaged when it's out of your control, and all your data could be forfeit.

Biddle writes:

Ever been a jerk to an Apple Genius? Bad idea. Ever seen someone approach the bar with a noxious attitude and a litany of dumb questions? They probably got what they deserved. The Geniuses always get theirs. How? By pouring whiskey into a customer's Mac. Or by mocking them enough to erect a shrine in the back room to whiny, dumb customers.

He then gives this transcript of a conversation with one of his Apple Genius sources ["Ronald"] with regards to the skateboarding thing:

6:07:35 PM Ronald: ive used someone else's hard drive as a skateboard cause he told the store I smelled
6:08:05 PM Ronald: or we just erase people's hard drives that are assholes
6:08:12 PM sambiddle: wouldn't they complain?
6:08:31 PM Ronald: they signed a form that legally made us not responsible for data
6:08:59 PM sambiddle: what happened when they came in and complained?
6:09:06 PM Ronald: show them what they signed
6:09:29 PM Ronald: we tell them multiple times that this could happen

AppleThis isn't about Apple. Every retailer hires bad apples (no pun intended).

Most Apple employees are probably conscientious workers. Every retail chain likely has horror stories to report that are similar to those in the Gizmodo piece.

But your equipment and your data is vulnerable even when repair shops aren't deliberately, belligerently messing with it.

In a perfect world, we've all encrypted our data and backed it up to an external hard drive or other secure spot before our device crashes and before we hand it over to a repair shop.

If you're not encrypting and backing up (and encrypting backups of) your data, the Apple story should be a reminder to do so.

Roger Hagedorn, a network administrator and CISSP, told me he found the Apple story "horrifying". People like him don't actually give much thought to protecting data while having devices repaired because, well, he's usually the one doing the repair.

But he has thought a lot about proper disposal of devices and the importance of carefully wiping information before parting with hardware.

His advice for iPhone or iPad issues that require sending out - and this can be carried over to all devices, of course, not just the iWhatevers - is to do a complete and encrypted backup of the device, and then erase it.

This is especially important if the device contains significant contact or password info or any sensitive files, he said.

Once the gadget's back from the shop, you can then perform a restore.

Backing up data goes for PCs, as well, particularly since newbie techs' preferred solution "tends to be 'wipe and rebuild'", Hagedorn said.

But since data can be spread all over the hard drive, deleting it can be tough. He says he'd use something like CCleaner - a freeware system optimisation and privacy tool that erases internet history and other unused files, and cleans up orphaned registry entries - to flush all the caches and remove passwords from the browsers.

Beyond those precautions, Scambusters has some great tips that can help stop repair scam artists, be they Geniuses or Geek Squad-ers or the workers at the dusty computer shop on Main Street.

Here are some of Scambusters' tips that are particularly relevant to electronic gadget repair:

Man breaking computer, courtesy of Shutterstock

  • Thoroughly check out anyone you're planning on to do your repairs. Are they licensed/bonded? Are they listed in the phone book? … Is the engineer or tech certificated for the work? Have many complaints against them been lodged?
  • Unless you've already worked with the repair provider and trust their reputation, always get a second and, preferably, a third bid for comparison. This alone has saved Scambusters thousands of dollars, they report, with a 40% or 50% difference in price not uncommon.
  • Check in advance whether the contractor will charge for investigating the cause and producing an estimate. This can be expensive, so make sure you know upfront what the fee will be. Although free estimates are wonderful, when it's someone you've called out to your home or time consuming to create the estimate, it may be fair for them to charge for their time. Also, find out if there's a minimum charge.
  • Bids should be in writing and include not only costs but how long the work will take. When comparing bids, make sure they're like-for-like - covering the same scope of work and quality of materials.
  • Remove, password-protect or encrypt sensitive materials.
  • Beware of sending items, like cell phones and iPods, away for repairs unless it's to the manufacturer or the retailer you bought it from. Online and classified ads offering cheap fixes could be a front for a repair scam. You'll likely never see the item again.
  • Beware of being bamboozled by jargon. Repair scammers and even legit engineers and geeks may use terms you don't understand, either innocently or to try to convince you they know what they're doing. If you don't understand, ask. If it's a repair scam, the crook will either not be able to answer or won't look you in the eye when they try to explain.

To Scambusters' tips, I'd like to add one more: be kind to retail workers. Be kind to restaurant workers, too.

There's no sense in taunting people who put their hands on your precious gadgets.

Besides, the world has no need for an elevated level of jerkitude.

Hagedorn put it well:

All I can say is that it’s always good practice to treat people with respect and dignity … and hope that they respond in kind.

Amen to that.

Man breaking computer and whiskey glass, courtesy of Shutterstock.

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13 Responses to How to keep Apple Geniuses from pouring whiskey into your Mac

  1. Brian · 1146 days ago

    Part of the problem is thought that the employees at Apple can be patronising assholes the believe they know it all because they've learned the company spiel. Best bet - avoid Apple.

    • Martin · 1146 days ago

      The article may have focused on apple but this could be any computer shop. There are patronising arsehole employees who think they know it all but rarely do in any store you visit not just apple.

    • Nigel · 1144 days ago

      "...they know it all because they've learned the company spiel. Best bet - avoid Apple."

      That's just nonsense. It's an ignorant generalization that reveals little actual experience with Apple personnel at best, and prejudicial hatred at worst. Apple didn't get to be one of the most highly valued companies in the world by consistently abusing their customers.

      Apple support people have provided some of the best and most knowledgeable customer service I've ever gotten anywhere, from any company. I've also talked to some Apple support folks who knew less than I do. In those cases I just say, "Oh...I think I know how to solve this myself now. Thanks anyway."...and move on. There's no point in abusing them.

      Although it has never happened to me, I do know some folks who've gotten some bad advice from Apple personnel, and in one instance a close associate described some very rude treatment she received.

      In other words, Apple ain't perfect. No surprise there. The fact that a few jerks show up is inevitable in such a large company. But on balance, my experience has been that their people are well trained, conscientious, helpful, courteous, and professional.

  2. Phil · 1146 days ago

    "Are they listed in the phone book?"
    Seriously? Who has a phone book??

  3. Joe · 1146 days ago

    I stopped reading Giz after that hack job.

  4. snert · 1145 days ago

    I went to buy a new power supply and two SATA cables at MicroDome Computers in Madison, Indiana and was waiting behind some guy. I listened while the jerk behind the counter told him all sorts of things that were wrong with the dudes machine - WITHOUT examining it. I told the guy he could get a better deal at Byron's Pizza and 'Puter's and told him where it was. (I grew up knowing Byron and he's One Of The Good Guys. The name of his place is a joke - there's a pizza place next door.)

  5. Dave · 1145 days ago

    This is an article by a company that paid for a stolen prototype iPhone and blasted the details on their website. Following that, they then refused to return the prototype to its owner (Apple) until Apple gave them a letter signed by Steve Jobs confirming that the iPhone was genuine. They are banned from all Apple events as a result.

    No evidence is given in this article - it's just bashing Apple employees.

    Please excuse me if I'm skeptical.

    • Lisa Vaas · 1145 days ago

      You're certainly not alone: much of the Slashdot commentary on the Gizmodo article is about the publication's trustworthiness, given the iPhone incident and the pulled-plug-at-CES thing. I tend to agree with the commenters who said that neither incident would necessarily lead to a conclusion that anything Gizmodo prints is utter fabrication. I doubt it's fabrication. Low-paid workers goofing around at work, pilfering and retaliating against customers just isn't all that hard to believe. The only thing the Gizmodo story lacks, which the Domino's Pizza and Best Buy et al. stories have, is corroborating video footage. I wouldn't be surprised were such proof to pop up on YouTube in the wake of the Gizmodo piece.

  6. Alex W · 1145 days ago

    How dare you say bad things about Apple. Be prepared to face the fanboy wrath! :P

  7. Uncle Speddy · 1145 days ago

    Be nice to your mac repair staff. Do not lie. We'll find out. Don't try the repair yourself and blame someone else. Don't get parts from iFixit and say it was another Apple store. Again, we can tell.

    Be honest and admit fault. We will do the best we can for you.

  8. Jack · 1145 days ago

    I would ask, how many of you send your machine away when it works well enough to do the things they suggest you do before you send it away? In other words, I work on my machines and I don't send it anywhere unless it DEAD, if you know what I mean. So all though it's a good idea to do this stuff, most of the time, you can't because it dead! I do take my disk drives out and usually end up just taking them apart and scraping off the disk, since I don't trust any of them. Being a retired police officer, I wonder how many people have been turned in for some illegal software or pictures that they them self placed there? Pretty suspicious huh? Oh well... Do what you can..

  9. Bob · 1145 days ago

    Another good tip is "Don't be a jerk in your life. Especially against underpaid employees that can do more arm to you than you can do to them."

    This has been true since the dawn of time when tavern waiters spit in ale.

  10. Dogh · 1104 days ago

    I agree that it pays to be patient and treat people with respect, regardless of the situation. I have a 24" iMac bought in April 2009 that wouldn't boot up after downloading Mountain Lion. It had been running hot, and exhibiting all sorts of suspicious behaviors even before downloading Mtn Lion 10.8. Well, after the download, it would always crash after boot-up, after the rainbow wheel stopping spinning. Took it to the Genius Bar. Initially thought it might be the graphics card. ( This was not the NVIDIA GeForce 8880 or 8600, widely identified as a poor card. ) Ok, changing that didn't do the trick. So they replaced the Logic Board. $629. I get the computer home. I boot up. As soon as the iCloud screen pops up, it crashes again. I haven't had the computer back to the Genius Bar yet, as I've been busy with other stuff. All this occurred in the last few weeks. I'm currently using my old G5 as a back-up. Will get the iMac back to Apple early next week. One thing that led me to Sophos was my belief from the code I discovered in Disk Utility, I may have malware, that which was recently reported. I am not happy that I was told my computer checked out, to come pick it up . . only to discover it still had issues, at least for me. But, I'll be patient and hopefully get this matter resolved amicably.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.