Consumerist's Geek Squad Investigation Featured In Today's Star Tribune

Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune confirmed our reports of widespread privacy violations and thievery at Best Buy‘s Geek Squad. The Star Tribune interviewed several Geek Squad agents on the record, and their findings mirror our own:

Four current and former Geek Squad technicians in three Best Buy stores who were interviewed by the Star Tribune said that they witnessed co-workers pulling up customers’ personal photos and urging others to look. Three of the four recall colleagues copying customers’ photos onto DVDs and USB drives.

“They’re testosterone-driven geeks, and they’re going to look around,” said Haddock, who worked at a Best Buy store in Santa Clarita, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles. “It’s the male prerogative. The temptation is always there.”

David O’Hare, a former Geek Squad agent who worked at the Best Buy store in Santa Clarita, said his colleagues illegally copied “thousands of songs,” which are protected by copyrights, from customers’ computers and stored them on a store computer.

“We probably had 50 to 100 [gigabytes] of music just sitting there for anyone to listen to or copy,” said O’Hare, who left Geek Squad a month ago.

Geek Squad gave the Star Tribune the same explanation they gave us, attributing the “rare occurrences” to “rogue employees.”

But some current and former Geek Squad agents say the intrusions into customer privacy are symptomatic of a larger problem: that Geek Squad’s rapid growth has compromised its service quality and consistency. Some agents said they are graded more on the number of services sold than on the quality of their repairs…

Many of the newer hires are college students who have little or no experience fixing computers, they say. Starting pay in many stores ranges from $10 to $12 an hour — not enough to retain quality technicians, some agents say.

Sorry Best Buy, any attempt to restore the Geek Squad to its once-respected status will fail so long as your focus remains on profits, and not customer and employee satisfaction.

Some allege Geek Squad agents copy your files [Minneapolis Star Tribune]
(Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune)
PREVIOUSLY: How Geek Squad Steals Your Porn
VIDEO: Consumerist Catches Geek Squad Stealing Porn From Customer’s Computer
Geek Squad Hatched Plot To Harvest Porn From Pornstar Jasmine Grey’s HardDrive, Days Before She Died In Car Crash
Why Geeks Steal Porn From Your Computer

Comments

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  1. mrjimbo19 says:

    This happens to be the closest Best Buy to me, I am really glad I am able to work on my own computers and do not have to bring them in to repair places. This is just flat out wrong.

  2. Moosehawk says:

    I read this today in the Star Tribune. I think maybe now that this story is running through the mainstream press they may actually try to do something about it.

  3. WoefulWednesday says:

    Coincidence or further evidence of a major problem?

    Check out today’s new secrets at PostSecret

    Geek Squad secret

  4. mrmcd says:

    “The male prerogative” ?

    That’s about the creepiest misuse of a word I’ve ever heard.

  5. banned says:

    This will really accomplish little in the end I fear. We’ve preached not to open attachments for a decade now and idiots still do it. Some military IT professionals STILL don’t change the default xp admin account password. The morons of the computer world simply refuse to learn anything, so unless Microsoft solves the problem for them, we’re really wasting time here. Even if Geek Squad stops, other people still will, and Geek Squad will just get your IP and passwords and hack your computer later if they feel the need.

  6. jacques says:

    I like the quote about how the music files are copyrighted. Of course, chances are if the customer has music on their computer than can be copied (so not DRMd, so a pretty good chance they weren’t purchased), the music was illegally downloaded to begin with.

  7. TPK says:

    I saw a Best Buy commercial for the Geek Squad on TV the other day. Despite their attempt to portray a competent, professional computer repair techician, my brain could not help but frame what I was watching in the context of what we now know to be at least not uncommon, if not actually widespread within the ranks.

    To be honest, it really kind of grossed me out. Something about the way they were trying so hard to appear trustworthy, it almost seemed like they were overcompensating, which made it even worse.

    Best Buy has a huge PR problem on their hands.

  8. TPK says:

    @jacques:

    Wow, how much did the RIAA pay you to post that?

    I own a fair amount of music, and I have (legally, well, unless you ask the RIAA) copied some of the music I have purchased onto my own computers or portable music players. I refuse to purchase DRM’d music, and I have every intention to never purchase any music that is DRM’d. Music is not food, shelter or clothing, so I fully anticipate being able to hold out on this for the rest of my life.

    I guess you must think I am a criminal?

  9. Televiper says:

    Enough of the “it’s a uncontrollable problem with college males” crap. It’s simple. Take personal data theft seriously. This is not a “boys will be boys” kind of thing.

  10. Televiper says:

    @jacques:

    Much like TPK I have thousands of purchased non-DRM’d mp3s on my hard drive. None of which get shared on P2P networks.

    The funny part about the “copyrighted” quote is that it’s completely irrelevant. Personal data is personal data, and they are violating people’s privacy. Is it OK for a plumber to go through a clients underwear drawer because she’s a stripper and most people see it anyway?

  11. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @Televiper: Amen. Copyright applies to my personal stuff as well, my pictures and my text. It is copyright to me regardless of whether or not I say (C) 2007.

  12. Geek Squad was featured on a PostSecret postcard this week:

    [postsecret.blogspot.com]

  13. frogman31680 says:

    Way to go Cunsumerist!

  14. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I foresee this story being recycled multiple times on tv news stations this week. Stay tuned.

  15. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    Once again: Ben, ya done good. I’m sure you helped inspire the Star Tribune story. Good work, man.

    And once again: How can or could Robert Stephens possibly know it’s a rare occurrence? Is he God up in heaven, almighty and omniscient, or think he is?

    And once again again: Good call for Ben to not identify the “one person.” Otherwise, Geek Squad would not bother with systemic changes. Firing one scapegoat is much easier than changing or reforming a culture, even if the latter is really what’s called for.

    In the case of AOL, they tried to “solve the problem” by firing a reputed “rogue employee” (a typical retention queue employee who happened to answer the phone when Vinny Ferrari called) but they had the disadvantage of thousands of customers or former customers knowing better from personal experience — who could see AOL’s “rogue employee” response as a frank lie. In the case of Best Buy snooping on and stealing from customers’ computers, customers usually have no way of knowing that that is going on. It could be positively rampant. The Star Tribune report says that at least one store, it truly was.

  16. enm4r says:

    @ThinkAboutItPlease: Holding back the employee name solved nothing. Geek Squad isn’t going to make sweeping changes. These are rogue employees, and whether or not they suffer from this company wide, isn’t the point. EVERY employee who does this should be fired, no questions asked. Holding back the name simply prevented them from setting an example, which should then be followed each time this is an issue.

    Yes management should be more aware, but the best way to fix the problem is to fire people who break the rules, set the example, and then follow through each time evidence surfaces. Employees aren’t going to care unless they think they’ll actually be fired. And even then, they’ll be be hired at another place down the street…

  17. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    ENM4R, I respectfully submit that you are missing my point: As long as management (Robert Stephens) assumes, almost certainly incorrectly, that “it’s an isolated incident” or “it’s a rogue employee,” he would think that “the problem is solved” once the offending employee is fired. If only things were so simple. Withholding the name forces Mr. Stephens to think more deeply, and truly examine and develop theory about the problem, and why and how it’s certain to happen again without serious system changes (in training, hiring practices, company culture, and, if necessary, monitoring). I will also say that if Mr. Stephens weren’t making blithe statements in the vein of “it’s an isolated incident” (how could be possibly know that?), I might be more inclined to agree that the offending employee should be identified. In normal circumstances, of course someone doing such a thing should be fired. But relative to Ben’s investigation there is much more leverage in solving the problem, and protecting consumers everywhere, by forcing Stephens to do serious research, which I personally believe would reveal that this was far from an isolated incident, and in fact is a serious vulnerability for consumers that has not been adequately addressed in the computer repair industry. Firing people who snoop or steal from customers’ computers is a reasonable intervention, but I don’t think it’s sufficient. I imagine the person Ben caught would have been fired if his boss knew what he did. The trouble is, though, that it took truly extraordinary circumstances for him to be caught. That tells me that we need to think more deeply if we really want to prevent this kind of stuff from happening again. As such I would posit that firing rule-breakers, while called-for, is far from “the best way to fix the problem.”

  18. theblackdog says:

    This doesn’t surprise me one bit. So many folks leave their photos, music, and other files in the default places on their computer (My Documents, My Music, My Photos, etc.) that it’s an easy temptation to look and see what is on there. I wonder if there is anything in the agreement that customers make with Geek Squad that the tech will not go through your personal files, or is there a clause that says that since they have full access to your computer you should remove any personal files?

    How much do you want to bet that some Geek Squad tech is going to be caught with some credit card or social security numbers that he/she swiped from a customer’s computer?

    I think if I ever have to take my computer in to be repaired (warranty work) I’m encrypting most of my hard drive.

  19. enm4r says:

    @ThinkAboutItPlease: I think we both agree on the way to move forward, and I don’t disagree that systemic changes need to be made. Monitor them, have management responsible for their actions. It’s not a hard move to make.

    But you have to start firing the employees that are breaking the rules, and he obviously is. I think they are as likely (which means not likely at all) to implement these sweeping changes whether or not they fire the employee. That really means the question for me is, do I think he should still have a job? No, I don’t.

  20. LTS! says:

    And the solution to this problem (assuming you believe keeping Geek Squad in business is a solution) is to monitor the employees. To do this you either have to have monitors. All solution cost more money, which in turn raises the rate of repair work which in return should trigger a Consumerist article in 3…2…1…

    “Why are Geek Squads Prices so High?” :)

    If you leave something tempting in the view of the general public, they are going to steal it. Don’t believe me? Print some pictures of yourself out and put them on a park bench, see how long they last. Try it with a music CD.

    This isn’t a system technician issue, this is a human values issue. We are curious, we look, we take, especially if we believe no one is watching.

  21. @LTS!: Consumers don’t want to pay for quality computer repair. Hence, Geek Squad.

  22. macaddict428 says:

    The real problem still remains that, Geek Squad technicians are under-educated workers in a discount electronics chain. This was eventually going to happen, and NO amount of damage control is going to do any good, now. The biggest beef I have with the comments made in the article were from the geek squad and best buy themselves. They said that customers data was still safer than if your computer was in the hands of an “independent” computer store. What the hell?!?! I own one of those stores, and I took very high offense to that comment. Actually, I could not believe my ears when I heard it on the news. I smell a law suit coming out of this. If so, I will join in. How dare the geek squad tell the consuming public that? I have worked on thousands of computers, and not once have the customers had to worry about their personal data. I sure am glad that I can do all my own computer repairs, because geek squad was never an option.

  23. macaddict428 says:

    @rocnrule:

    Honestly, what does this have to do with the geek squad looking at people’s files?

  24. ThinkAboutItPlease says:

    ENM42: I agree with you that the guy Ben caught deserves the boot, but if his identity were revealed right now, an opportunity would be missed. Perhaps after Robert Stephens shows signs of “getting it,” and taking smart, proactive steps to intervene at a systems level, it would then be reasonable for Ben to share the guy’s name with his superiors. Revealing the name now would remove any motivation for Geek Squad management think about things or make serious changes, particularly given Stephens’ thoughtless statements about “it’s an isolated incident.” It seems that Stephens would like nothing better than to scapegoat, and scapegoating would leave consumers as vulnerable as before.

  25. gman863 says:

    Sadly, the “Peek Squad” is not a new problem. I spent over seven years as a sales manager for two national computer retailers (one long since out of buisiness; the other found in most every “City” in the US).
    Before chain stores set up in-house tech service, some sales associates did freelance service on the side – a practice that was viewed by the stores as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” issue.
    Given the tech work wasn’t contracted between the store and the customer, there was little (if anything) the store could do if a problem arose. In addition to copying files, some associates boasted of copying entire software programs and even cloning the entire contents of a customer’s hard drive. In an extreme instance, one sales associate was caught swapping out or swiping memory chips from novice users PCs who were unlikely to know the difference between 512 and 256 Mb of memory.
    The moral of the story: IF YOU DON’T WANT OTHERS TO SEE YOUR FILES, STORE THEM ON AN EXTERNAL HARD DRIVE or, at the very least, PASSWORD PROTECT THEM. A store cannot guarantee data security with poorly paid part-time techs who go through little (if any) background checking before being hired.

  26. savdavid says:

    Jerk squads