Apple: No, You Can't Have Your Data Back, We're Keeping It

If you have AppleCare and send your Mac in for a hard drive issue, you’ll want to be aware of their policies. If Apple can’t fix the hard drive and restore your data they’ll replace the disk, but they’ll also keep your old drive. Even if you ask for it back. Even if you try to buy it back. Reader Chris says this is standard industry policy, but he still objects to it:

I asked if I can buy a new hard drive, in order to get the old drive back: “No.”

I asked if I can buy a new hard drive on a new job ticket and then
have them install it: “No.”

I asked if there was any way to get my warranty part and my data back: “No.”

I can choose one or the other, but not both.

So, it turns out, Apple will hold your hard drive hostage at an Apple Store, not because of cost or stock management, but simply because they do. I did not mail my laptop to a service center, I took it to a store and am going to pick it up. There is, functionally, no difference for Apple if I get my warranty drive and take my old hard drive *full of my personal data* or not. In fact, I save them the trouble of disposing of it. They simply refuse to allow it. From what I hear this is standard industry practice.

In order to make sure his data was properly disposed of, Chris had to put a hold on the replacement, pick up his drive from the Apple Store, go home, erase the data himself and then bring it back to Apple so they could exchange it for a new drive. Read Chris’ entire email inside.

Chris writes:

Hello Consumerist,

I’ve got a little tale of woe concerning Apple, AppleCare, and my laptop’s data that will likely scare some of your readers in more than a few ways.

Yesterday, our dependable little PowerBook started making the dreadful clicking whirr of a dying hard drive. I took it into the Apple store in the mall today and they quickly diagnosed the problem. And better yet, it’s still covered under my extended AppleCare plan, so I get a free replacement drive. Great news, right? But I still have a drive of lost data. A successful data recovery attempt by Apple is $53. No biggie, my 2 weeks of un-backed-up data is worth more than that to me, for a variety of reasons. And if it fails, no charge.

Well, the recovery did not work, and a full-on data recovery (the kind that involves a clean room, etc.) is typically $1500+. So, then I tell them that I want my old drive back and I’ll pick it all up when it’s ready. After all, I can just get the new drive and try to recover my old data on my own, or at least ensure that it won’t get into the wrong hands by wiping or destroying it. WRONG.

Apple is, as the service person told me on the phone, “not responsible for your data”. I’ve always known this, and I back up my data before taking my laptop and/or iPod in for servicing. Unfortunately, that somehow encompasses the *physical medium* in this case as well. Apple’s policy, I was told, in the event of a warranty replacement, is to not allow you to have more than one hard drive. You either take the new one or leave it. I was livid (I paid for it, why can’t I have it back!?). But I controlled myself, since this guy’s just doing his job and can’t change policy.

I asked if I can buy a new hard drive, in order to get the old drive back: “No.”

I asked if I can buy a new hard drive on a new job ticket and then have them install it: “No.”

I asked if there was any way to get my warranty part and my data back: “No.”

I can choose one or the other, but not both. So, it turns out, Apple will hold your hard drive hostage at an Apple Store, not because of cost or stock management, but simply because they do. I did not mail my laptop to a service center, I took it to a store and am going to pick it up. There is, functionally, no difference for Apple if I get my warranty drive and take my old hard drive *full of my personal data* or not. In fact, I save them the trouble of disposing of it. They simply refuse to allow it. From what I hear this is standard industry practice. From their perspective, it’s simply a part with no value…but you can’t have it anyway.

At this point, I just wanted a resolution that didn’t involve my data floating around in the back of a store full of people I don’t know. I’m sorry, Apple, I paid for the old drive and I paid for the warranty, but there’s no way on earth I’m just letting that drive float free. Well, after a call to a good IT friend and a second call to the store by my wife, we determined that they can put a hold on the job. We can wipe the old drive ourselves, bring it back, and get the new one installed into the laptop in exchange for the now-even-more-worthless worthless part. The service rep said that this is what people end up doing in this situation.

Lessons learned:
1) Back up your data at least once a week.
2) Apple doesn’t care about your data. But they care enough to keep it from you.
3) If you can’t wipe a dead drive, you have to trust Apple.
4) It’s good to have a friends in the IT biz so you don’t have to.

I (still) appreciate Apple’s hardware and software design, their employees, their stores, their general philosophy, and up until now, I appreciated their service. But this policy really stinks. Buyer beware. I hope my experience helps other people avoid the surprise of this policy.

Keep up the good work,


You heard Chris, if your hard drive can’t be recovered, be prepared to put a hold on your repair so that you can erase the disk yourself. Unless you trust the Apple Store with it. Do you? —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: dlayphoto)


Edit Your Comment

  1. levenhopper says:

    This is SOP from every service center, for every type of computer. All services that I have used for repair always say CLEARLY that your data is your own responsibility, and that you should back it up before sending it in because there is a chance you may not get it back.

  2. dbeahn says:

    When I worked for Sony, this was S.O.P. for a very simple reason – it was easier for the company to throw your old drive away than it was to send it back to you. Cost wasn’t any different, on the rare occasions the “Office of the President” for whatever reason, forced us to track and return a customer’s old drive, all that meant was the tech set it aside on his workbench, then packed it with the repaired computer. It always seemed to me it was much more about Sony proving that they were Sony and their customers were nobody than anything else.

  3. VA_White says:

    They don’t care what the part is or how insignificant, either. I had the duckhead on my a/c adapter go bad. Apple refused to give me a replacement until I sent the old, hazardous, sparking, and completely unusable duckhead back to them. Like there is some kind of black market in bad Apple duckheads.

  4. jmclaugh says:


    Why the hell is this even a story? It’s the way that EVERY DAMN HARDWARE COMPANY IN NORTH AMERICA AND EUROPE OPERATES.

  5. ValkRaider says:

    VA_WHite: I have had several parts replaced before I sent the old one in. I had a power adapter, a battery, and a VGA dongle. In each case Apple sent me the replacement part in a box with return postage paid, and I put the old part in the box, sealed it , and mailed it back.

    Also, I have had a hard drive fail in a PowerBook, and had almost the exact same experience. They would not let me have the old hard drive. Howver, the hard drive would not even spin up so there was no way I could erase or copy anythying.

    In the end, you should encrypt anything you want to keep secure as you never know where your hard drive will end up at any point in time. No matter who makes your computer.

  6. mikedt says:

    I’ve had to send my HP laptop in at least 3 times for various problems. Each time I removed the hd before I sent it in. I figured the hd wasn’t at fault so there was no reason for them to have it. They never complained.

  7. mac-phisto says:

    this is just to stop ppl from scamming the warranty system. i had a friend in college that sold warranty parts on ebay that he received (such as saying his hd was bad when it wasn’t to get a replacement). you can blame him for policies like this.

  8. Hedgy2136 says:

    Apple doesn’t manufacture Hard Disk drives. They buy them from another manufacturer. In order for them to get credit from their source for the defective part, they “may” be required to return it. It is standard industry practice, unless there is a preexisting agreement (ie, Government) for them to retain all failed warranty parts.

  9. TPIRman says:

    Wait, two issues are being conflated here: the data and the hardware. This is the most confused section:

    Apple is, as the service person told me on the phone, “not responsible for your data”. I’ve always known this, and I back up my data before taking my laptop and/or iPod in for servicing. Unfortunately, that somehow encompasses the *physical medium* in this case as well.

    I don’t think so. Rather, it seems that Apple is saying two things:

    1. Apple isn’t responsible for your data.
    2. If Apple replaces a part for you under warranty, you don’t get the original part back.

    Both are reasonable policies. The first for obvious reasons, the second to prevent people from gaming the warranty system to get spare parts. Policy #2 is the reason Apple wouldn’t give him his original hard drive back and give him a replacement drive.

    Chris says that Apple was holding his drive “hostage,” but by his own admission, they were actually giving him a choice: take your broken drive back or get your new part. Chris dances around this point to make his plight seem more dire, but if you read carefully, this choice was obviously offered somewhere in the messy process. It appears Chris wanted to have it both ways.

    I’m not saying Chris was treated well, or even that he was in the wrong. Wise is the man who doesn’t trust the tech in the back room to properly dispose of his personal data (although I wonder if an identity thief is going to spend $1500 to revive a dead drive). Apple should have offered him the eventual solution right up front: “If you want to take the computer home, wipe the drive, and come back, be our guest.” It’s also asinine that they wouldn’t let him outright purchase a new drive and install it for him on a new job order.

    To boot, it sounds like the problem was compounded by confused CSRs parroting the same old “not responsible for data” line when that wasn’t the most pertinent issue.

  10. pwrmac says:

    Ok here is the deal. Either at the store or an Apple repair depot all parts are required to be returned to a group at Apple. At that point they are either repaired and put back in service stock or if it is under some kind of warranty they are sent back to the vendor it was bought from. Now some are going to say “what they fix it and put it back in service stock?” Yes read your warranty it states the part can be refurbished or new.

  11. 3drage says:

    If Apple is like most companies, they outsource their hardware manufacture. They require the bad component, first for verification of failure, but also to turn back in to the outsourced company for a credit/refund under their own warranty. The last part is probably the reason for wanting the failed part back. When I serviced HP printers, I’ve come across situations where they desperately needed the failed part, and other times when it was no big deal. All based off of their outsourced contracts.

  12. OrtizDupri says:

    My girlfriend’s computer crashed (laptop) – we managed to buy the old hard drive back from Dell and they shipped it to her right away, while giving her a new hard drive in the fixed computer.

  13. lihtox says:

    I’ll agree that the policy isn’t as unreasonable as it’s made out, but given the sensitive nature of hard drives, these repair shops really should take responsibility for the data enclosed therein. Can’t they invest in giant magnets to wipe the drives, or something like that?

  14. mrosedal says:

    I work at the University of Illinois. Illinois has some pretty meaty laws about data protection. One is that a drive must be wiped by 10 passes. I can check on what our agreement is for Macs, although I would assume that since we do things in house that is how we can get by with it.

    If you buy a dell there is a check box that you can selected that will allow you to “keep your hard drive.” We require that for our Dell machines. Again we do all of our own service, but the HD comes we replace it and destroy the old one if we cannot wipe it. Dell doesn’t care what we do with our old HD as long as we specified that option when we purchased the computer.

    I would say that it is industry standard, but as you can see with Dell some companies will work with you on this.

  15. dbeahn says:

    Actually, most companies that buy hard drives from suppliers don’t return those drives to the suppliers. It is tremendously expensive to move all those bad parts just so Fujitsu can re-verify a hard drive is bad when a Sony tech has already verified that it’s bad. The suppliers know that the repair techs DO NOT replace parts that aren’t bad. It costs the company money to move, order, store, ship etc. the replacement drives, so they do not want to have funds tied up in a large stock of replacements just so they can replace first and get credit later.

    It’s all about cost savings at the expense of the customer.

  16. boscoeatm says:

    Welcome to my world. I took my Powerbook to the “Genius” Bar (nice name) because my DVD was acting quirky and they said they’d have to send it out…no big deal. Then they said “by the way sign this paper if you don’t want us to back up your data for this fee.” I figured that seeing we both agreed it was a bad DVD that I didn’t need to do a backup. WRONG!! A week later I get it back with a brand new hard drive! Apple determined it was a faulty hard drive and NOT my DVD. After many phone calls and complaints, to no avail, the Apple rep on the phone told me it was physically impossible to get my drive back because they literally “throw them together in a bucket” to dipose of! Word of warning: “PAY FOR THE BACKUP!”

    P.S. O yeah, the best part is that the DVD has NEVER worked right one time since I got it back! How’s that for Customer Service?!

  17. Falconfire says:

    @boscoeatm: instead of paying for the backup, maybe you could you know back it up yourself like a knowledgeable and smart computer user would do.

    this has been SOP for years for just about everyone I know of, including my own school district. We send a memo out every year, “Back up your fles, because we will not nor will we go out of our way to save the files if the hard drive is too damaged.”

    People get pissed off, but honestly there is nothing on our districts network aside from student and financial data that IS backed up every night that would require us to spend money on insane testing equipment.

  18. tazo says:

    I had a similiar issue with my mac mini in which my harddrive crashed. I was fortunate enough to take it to a third party Apple vendor. They replaced the drive at a cheaper cost than was quoted to me by the Applestore and they gave me back my third party hd (a hitachi).

  19. LTS! says:

    I deal with corporate level purchases but we have the option with Dell to maintain our hard drives in the event of a failure. Certainly there is a cost for this however in our industry we cannot simply ship back drives to Dell.

    On to more pressing matters. If your drive is dead good luck using a tool to erase it. In order to perform the wipe procedure it needs to write to the drive and presumably this was the very reason you had the machine in for service in the first place.

    If your data was worth more than $53 would you not be better served purchasing an external drive to back it up to? They are relatively inexpensive and guard against these issues.

    So, the HDD is bad. I’d get my old drive back, go online and buy a new HDD which will come with a longer warranty than your Mac has. (Assuming you buy a quality HDD).

  20. superlayne says:

    My harddrive has been wiped somewhere around 6 times. Back up your data.

    The warrenty rip-off thing is probably why they wouldn’t give it back to him, but if he offered to pay for it, then..

  21. Cabe29i says:

    A lot of this issue appears to be more the way apple handles people’s old hard drive and not the data itself. They should allow purchase of the drive once they verify its bad, but that in itself isn’t as much of an issue, they could have (even for a separate fee) offered to destroy the disk in front of the customer. You never know, it could just be a bad circuit board and not the platters/motor/heads themselves. Something like that is generally easy to recover from (in this case, it was the heads though meaning mostly dead data) and could lead to even unintentional data leaks. Without getting into the discussion about encryption, data security practices and the like, you never know when a small physician’s office laptop dies, he takes it to apple, apple replaces the drive but refuses to give the old drive back, someone grabs the part (an employee or some such) gets it running by swapping the circuit board, sells it on ebay and boom, you have patients data floating around. Obviously, the fault would fall more on the doctor and in this case, you can only fault apple so much but at the very least to show they care about customer’s and their data integrity, they should have allowed the guy to purchase the bad part or destroy it in front of him. Maybe the submitter should notify apple’s customer relations, if anything to suggest they offer a data destruction service (if only for a small cost) in front of the customer, especially in this day with more sensitive information on the little platters of personal lives. All in all, this could have handled better on both sides but at the same time, you can’t really fault both sides as well. Yea, the guy didn’t backup his data but even he said it wasn’t their data-recovery policy he was concerned about, just what they may do with the broken drive.

  22. VA_White says:

    Most vendors have a destroy-in-field policy where the defectives are destroyed (or more usually thrown in a dumpster) by the store and then claimed as a defective credit.

    There really is no reason they can’t give him back his old hard drive after they determine for sure it’s bad. He should get it back, smash the platters with a hammer, then bring the debris back in for a replacement.

  23. rongenre says:

    They did that for me when my [work] macbook drive died. What was nice, although it took a while to get to this point, was that they shipped me a new drive, and it took perhaps 5 mins of screwdrive work to get the new drive installed.

    They did, though, insist that the non-booting drive get sent back to them. I work with some sensitive data, and for work that’s a problem. I asked apple if it would be ok if I cut the drive into pieces with bolt cutters, and they weren’t terribly impressed. I ended up visiting a computer recycling center which has a degaussing service, and work was satisfied.

  24. mavrc says:

    As a support person, and ex-IT guy, I’ll chime in and affirm that this is an industry standard practice, pretty much across the board. It’s not an Apple problem, it’s an ‘everybody’ problem.

    What’s really interesting, though, is that federal regs like Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA have changed data archiving and access substantially in just the last 2-3 years, yet this process has remained industry standard. I would imagine at least part of the reason why hardware OEM’S haven’t yet come up with some sort of data-destruction service is that along with a service like that would come substantial liability, and they’re not ready to go quite that far yet.

  25. Cabe29i says:

    @mavrc: My previous job I worked, we were covered by both SOX and HIPAA. When the bulk of our systems were HP, we would just order new HDs through CDW instead of warranty, to avoid any foulups. 5 years of that and we ended up with around 15 large creates of HDs stored off-site for a rather large amount of money.

    My current company isn’t public but is also covered under HIPAA, we do almost the same, except wiping the hard drive and later destroying it through a service that our document shredder company provides.

    Either way, you eat the cost of the HD and disposal, but my current company cares more about the patient than saving a few dollars. (And yes, the cost of possible fines if we don’t do this also has a part to do with it, we are a company after all.)

  26. Plasmafire says:

    At the place I go to get my computer repaired I ALWAYS get the old hard drives back when I get my computers repaired. The place will also do a complete hard drive data transfer for your failing/failed hard drives.

    I have a stack of 10 old hard drives sitting by my basement computer.. some of them are old 256meg hard drives and some are newer 60gig hard drives, just waiting for me to take them apart and see what made them tick.

  27. Plaid Rabbit says:

    I’m failing to see the consumer issue here. The guy complaining knew that Apple wasn’t going to give him back his data. Why does he want the dead hard-drive? I imagine that this wasn’t used for something ridiculously secure, or he’d be utilizing the built-in encryption in OS X or would have wiped the drive before sending it in. So, once again, I’m going to ask – why do people get crazy when they can’t destroy or hold an old hard drive that doesn’t work?

    If the hard drive platters are hosed in some fashion, they can’t be read, so the information can’t get off of it. If the motor doesn’t spin up and is burnt out, it can’t be read and/or fixed by anyone who doesn’t have a seriously expensive clean room. Regardless, nobody wants your information bad enough to go to the steps it would take to get data off a hard drive that doesn’t work. It’s just simple cost/benefit – anyone who is working around the drives that wants to steal your SSN or other sensitive information (that you foolishly sent in, knowing that it would be out of your control for an extended period of time) is not either going to have the means or the desire to open your drive and recover ONE SSN, which may or may not net them anything at all.

    Furthermore, it doesn’t appear that he even checked into what they do with the dead drives they harvest. If they say that they destroy them, I’d believe them. If you don’t, then don’t send in ANY data at all – if you can, zero the drive to the best of your ability before sending it in. If you can’t zero the drive, again, nobody is going to go to the trouble of fishing for ID information by making the drive readable again.

  28. Miguel Valdespino says:

    @ Plaid Rabbit:

    Never underestimate the work somebody will do to steal from you. There are people who spend a serious amount of time and effort on really stupid things.

    You are also wrong in assuming that you need a clean room ro recover platters from a hard drive. You need clean rooms if you intend to get high quality data from them. But if you’re just sifting through to see what you can copy off of it, you can get by with a lot less rigor.

  29. XianZhuXuande says:

    This truly is industry standard. All the tech companies I have worked for do not return the old hard drive. Right now I’m a senior technician working for crappy ol’ Geeksquad and they are no different — if we ship a computer to service, and the hard drive is bad, the old hard drive is kept and the customer gets the new one, but never both.

    We get around this by replacing the hard drive in the store when possible, and we give both drives back to the customer. Like many Geeksquad issues, it is a matter of control.

    Anyway, drives swapped out in service are physically destroyed.

  30. mac-phisto says:

    @Plaid Rabbit: i would tend to agree with this post. the majority of id theft comes from your garbage, but we’re talking about bills & such here. common sense dictates that someone who knows how to recover data from a busted drive is most likely employing their skills in a fashion that is less “hit-&-miss”.

    why spend hours sifting thru partial data when you can, say, backdoor 5/3rd bank for 47 million debit card numbers?

  31. Plaid Rabbit says:

    @Miguel Valdespino: Fair enough – you are right; we’re assuming that criminals are smart, which is usually quite an oxy-moron. I fall back on my secondary argument – if you are that scared about what the tech might get on your hard drive, zero the thing to the best of your ability BEFORE sending it in. I mean, couldn’t you just put a huge magnet on the thing for a couple of minutes, if it won’t spin up? Many sites would give you a good idea of where the thing is in the computer case – the small amount of plastic between you and the case wouldn’t be enough to stop at least scrambling the crap out of the data.

    Lastly, I forgot to mention – this is warranty repair, so I understand wanting to get your money out of it – but like a previous poster who worked in high security stuff said, if you’re THAT concerned, just replace it yourself; a 80 gig HD is going for about $70 on right now. All you have to ask yourself is if the data on the drive is worth the parts and labor to get the thing fixed privately.

  32. telexgalt says:

    I used to work for Apple, and they aren’t Best Buy. Your data is pretty safe, all they do is box the thing up and send it back to Cupertino for testing and recycling.

    Apple has some anal retentive policy about tracking everything from the dust in the filters to zip ties used on the display tables. They must know where everything is at all times, it’s quite time consuming and a pain the katookis.

    When it comes to broken items the main reason is to test it to see why it broke. They catalog everything about it, how long it was used, who made it, when it was shipped, etc. They don’t care about the data on it, they just want to know it’s story. They do this to track all sorts of weird stuff, but mainly it’s ammo of some sort. To use to spur on the troops in the ranks, developers, and partners in business. You think sony didn’t get an earful about that battery issue last year?

    This is just an example of a consumer being overly paranoid. If this was Best Buy, Walmart, or Microsoft I’d understand. But this is just Apple being overly detailed in the name of delivering a better product down the line.

    Now you may be thinking that’s all well and good, but what about some unscrupulous jerk who may get his hands on my data? Well in the event it does get lost, how many people know how to recover corrupted data from a bad drive? And within the ranks of Apple, you get some pretentious asshats, and maybe a snake-oil salesman or two, but not really sketchy types that would steal personal data. Apple has a pretty thorough hiring policy, it took three months before they called me back and 5 interviews.

    Trust me your data is pretty safe.

  33. Donathius says:

    I’m just going to reiterate what several people have already said, but…

    I used to work at a small OEM and we offered a 2-year parts warranty on our computers. If someone brought in a malfunctioning machine we made a determination if the parts were still under the manufacturer’s warranty. If it was still under manufacturer warranty we usually still stocked the parts, so we could replace them right away. For said parts we would then send the defective untis back to the manufacturer who refunded us the cost of the drive as well as shipping – we usually did bulk shipments – or they would send us replacement parts. We would typically send around $1000 worth of merchandise at a time at a shipping cost of ~$50 (depending on weight…hard drives are heavy) plus insurance.

    For parts that were out of manufacturer warranty, but still within the in-store warranty…we just had to eat the cost of the replacement parts.

  34. theinsanecultist says:

    “I did not mail my laptop to a service center, I took it to a store and am going to pick it up. There is, functionally, no difference for Apple if I get my warranty drive and take my old hard drive *full of my personal data* or not.”

    Actually, thats not true. Apple does NOT repair laptops in the store. They mail them to repair centers, the centers do the repair, and they mail the unit back to the store. There’s absolutely no difference in repair if you take your laptop in, or you mail it yourself. And no, this isn’t coming from insider tips, this is general knowledge.

    As the guy says, it’s a standard part of the industry. By law, and especially in CA, companies must keep repair parts in stock for 7 – 10 years for each product. If companies mail back your broken stuff, they can’t refurbish it and re-use it, and thus, repair costs and warranty prices go through the roof.

    You have a Mac, so open iCal. Set it to remind you to backup every week/month/whenever. I do it monthly. Then, there’s no reason to complain when your drive bites it.

  35. lestat730 says:

    About a year ago I purchased an external Iomega 40gb usb hard drive. After only a year it started making the clicking noise of death and then simply stopped working. I had my data backed up but was still a little paranoid about throwing it away with data that could potentially be recovered. At first I thought all hope was lost until someone told me if I had nothing to lose try dropping it on a hard surface. I don’t know what this did but unbelievably it started working again long enough for me to fully destroy my data. Because of this I would actually be worried about letting a hard drive full of my personal data float around. What may seem like it would require a clean room and over $1000 to fix may have an easy solution!

  36. bald_eagle says:

    If all that Apple sold to were techies, I might give them the benefit of the doubt on their customer service … BUT many of us (those) out here are not so savvy on such matters.

    I think that the issue is why can they not give more weight to the reality that while the programs for these customers can be easily re-installed, the personal work and data is not … unless you are a techie and understand all these things before disaster hits the first time.

    Isn’t it also about the customer, retaining good-will for the next purchase, as well as all the great word-of-mouth advertisement they could be getting? Easy as 1-2-3. (Come on Apple! Think “$$$”)

  37. acuteangle says:

    Geniuses in Apple Stores are AASPs just like anyone else who has AASP certification. The policy for warranty repairs is pretty much universal. For every part used in a repair that comes from Apple a part needs to go back to Apple. You can’t put warranty parts in normal retail inventory (if you’re attached to a retail shop) because of this. That means you not only can’t give a drive or any other part to someone but you can’t sell it to them either. If the part was the sort that was user replaceable and AppleCare mailed one to them they would require the old part be sent back or the person would be charged for it.

    For one no OEM wants their warranty parts sold on the market. Warranty parts are often available for far less than normal retail prices. Warranty parts don’t exist so you can go sell them for a profit on eBay. When an OEM like Dell or Apple order a load of drives from Fujitsu or whoever they keep a certain portion of them aside for warranty fulfillment. They’ll put a clause in their order contract saying they get a credit for any failed drives they had to replace under their own warranties. This way those extras kept aside aren’t just a sunk cost sitting in a warehouse costing them money.

    If you’re going to have anyone repair your hardware back up your data first. It is not anyone else responsibility. The same goes for discarding that data, wipe it yourself before a repair because the techs doing the work have more machines to work on than just yours. Complaining and wanting special treatment just increases their workload. You’d be pissed if the guy ahead of you wanted special treatment which slowed your repair down, keep in mind the person after you in line (repair order).

  38. grotsasha says:

    That’s exactly what happened to me in November last year – my PowerBook ’12 hard drive died and my PB was still under warranty. I had a recent backup, so it was not that much of a problem. When I came to Gravis (this is a german apple repair shop), they told me that I can’t have my broken hard drive given back to me, and they told me that they have to send it to Apple. I didn’t object, allthough I found it kind of weird. Then I specified on written paper that I would like the broken drive to be erased before sending it to Apple, which they told they will do. When I came to the shop to pick up my PB, I got a paper with description of every step of the repairing process – even ordering the new hard drive and getting a new hard drive from Apple was listed there. They *didn’t* erase my old drive.

  39. ngng says:

    I had a very similar experience: my PowerBook’s hard drive failed last September, while it was still covered by AppleCare. I bought the computer in Maryland, but live in Tel Aviv, Israel. There is no Apple Store in Israel but there is a company called Yeda in the town Rosh Ha’Ayin that is an authorized Apple service center.

    It may well be standard operating procedure in the industry and for Apple to retain customers’ damaged, useless hard drives, but I bought my computer to Yeda knowing in advance that they would not fix be able to fix the drive. I asked them *many* times and in advance to devote all their attention to the *data* and not to the drive itself, reminding them *repeatedly* that I wanted the drive back and that I was willing to buy it back from Apple.

    Sure enough, Yeda replaced my hard drive under AppleCare – but let me buy me back my old hard drive for about $150. I don’t know if Yeda made a mistake and violated Apple’s policy in my case, or whether they are different policies at different service centers. In any case, someone certainly profited from selling me the old drive.

  40. Papa K says:

    This just raises the ire I still have for apple never sending me a hardware test CD after their (lack-og) “Genius” bar said I’d get it back, and that they’d ordered me a replacement (twice), and never sending me a box to return my iBook in, and after replacing it four times (in three months) and not getting a new one!

    Damn you, Apple!

    Oh, and why backdoor 5/3rd? Just hack TJ Maxx.

  41. blackscreen says:

    There’s another good reason for not giving a defective item back to a customer: The terms of some warranties allow for replacement of a unit if a component continues to fail. If Joe Customer wants to game that system, getting the defective hard drive back once the computer is repaired gives him the perfect opportunity. Joe Customer picks up his newly repaired computer, waits a couple weeks, throws the dead drive back in his machine and takes it in for repair. Now rinse and repeat. A few months later Joe Customer shows up screaming that his machine is a lemon and wants it replaced. He’s got paperwork that shows the drive’s been replaced due to defect X times. Chances are, someone’s going to end up replacing it. Now Joe Customer gets himself a brand new computer along with however many good hard drives came out of that one computer. Now the manufacturer is throwing free machines at numerous customers, and one of two things happens:

    1. The manufacturer needs to recoup more money on the front end of the purchase. Surprise! Your new PC costs a couple hundred dollars more than it used to.

    2. The manufacturer is forced to change the terms and conditions of their warranty, limiting their responsibilities, making life worse for people who weren’t gaming the system.

    Is all this really worth getting a broken hard drive back? I don’t think so.

  42. chris_the_consumer says:

    Hello, I’m the Chris in this story. I think my letter may have confused things a bit. Some people are correct: I am simply not willing to allow my hard drive to ‘fall out of the system’ when it’s still full of my data. But my real objection is that Apple refused to allow me to get the drive back, even if I paid for a new, non-warranty drive, eschewing any free parts. Essentially, they refused to give back a hard drive that they would happily give back to me if I don’t receive or purchase one to replace it. This is why I used the word hostage. They’ll return drive only in exchange for letting them not do any work, or making you do it for them.

    It’s a weird unfortunate circumstance of intersecting policies that actually do make sense in isolation. Hence the letter.

  43. akatsuki says:

    I really think you are being naive. The one hard drive policy is designed to prevent fraud. You come in, say your drive is intermittently flaking out and they replace it. Now, imagine if it really wasn’t and you got to keep both.

    The real issue is that they don’t have a clearly laid out and public policy for data security. For example, if they promised that each drive would be wiped with industrial strength magnets, then that would be fine.

    All you needed to do (besides actually backing up) was to actually try and recover your data first, before going in for a warranty replacement.

  44. JohnnyAppleseed says:

    A few things:

    1) Not sure how everyone else does things, but this is how we do it in the midwest. We always give customers a choice before even checking in the unit. As stated so many times above, Apple is not responsible for your data. But definitely we give you the option of taking your unit to a recovery service. We can attempt to do a data transfer if the hard drive is willing, but again, if we can’t, you have those options before we repair the unit. If we don’t get the data, we don’t charge you for the attempt.

    2) Up until about last summer, we allowed customers to purchase the hard drive back from us, give them 14 days to retrieve the data, and get a full refund after they do whatever it is they wanted. That was until too many legal issues arose from doing that. So you can definitely thank those that try and muscle companies with lawsuits for a few bucks for that.

    3) As stated above as well, we have our own warranties with the manufacturers of the hard drives that we need to collect our warrantied parts as well. I’m not going to speak for other genius’, but what would I gain from trying to snoop around a customers hard drive if it doesn’t even boot up enough for me to transfer for the customer? We have so many repairs that we have to do that taking a few minutes to attempt something not possible is wasting my and your time.

    I know some people will still think down on our practices, but its pretty much like this through anyone, no matter what kind of computer you’re talking about. We try and go out of our way as much as we can for customers so they don’t have an experience like that, losing precious data. Not sure if this helps, but something to definitely think about before its too late, BACKUP YOUR DATA! As cliche as it sounds, you don’t know what you had until its gone, and data is no different. 5 years of this and same ‘ol same, people who were going to backup never did.

  45. telexgalt says:


    actually, some repairs are done in store for laptops now. It depends on the issue.

    There are is new policy on all repairs, SPEED IT UP. Goals for the apple store are now 60% -80% of all repairs done within the store and within 2-4 days. Doesn’t matter whether it’s ProCare or otherwise.

    but of course for $99 dollars they’ll put you at the top of the list.

    Also if you take it into the store and talk calmly with the genius you are more likely to get what you want, sending it to the depot makes it easier for them to find a reason to tell you ‘no’.

  46. Calp says:

    Yes this is standard industry practice for big name companies unfortunately, in a lot of cases it makes sense.

    There are some exceptions to the rule. I know government contracts they do not require to keep or send back the HDD (for security reasons) but just have you sign off that you’ve properly destroyed it.

    Too bad us lowly individual consumers do not have the leverage power of a government contract to have the big companies conform to our needs.

  47. shifuimam says:

    @the readers who claim that “this is how every company does it”:

    This isn’t true. I’ve had to RMA several dying hard drives to both Toshiba and Maxtor. They have a very nice policy – you give them your credit card information, and they’ll ship you a brand new drive. Once you’ve either wiped the dying drive or taken the necessary means to ensure the data is not recoverable, you can ship the dead/dying drive back at your leisure. The company will keep a charge on your credit card for their retail cost of the drive (usually $250 or more) and refund that charge as soon as they receive the dead drive.

    It is not common policy to replace the drive first without giving the customer the option of recovering their data (or destroying their data). As long as you’re willing to front the money to get a replacement drive, any hard drive company or computer manufacturer I’ve dealt with will let you keep your old drive until you’re ready to send it back.

    I know a guy who does IT support at a university, and when one of the drives in a server died, he told Dell that he was going to destroy the drive before he sent it back, due to the confidential nature of the data stored on it. They agreed, and he literally drilled holes in the drive before he sent it back.

    Don’t get duped into thinking that Apple’s severely stunted “warranty” policies are normal. From my dealings with Apple, I can tell you right now that the warranty coverage and fulfillment process is far from the norm in the consumer computer industry.

  48. boo9radley says:

    Interesting article. I just wanted to add my two cents here: I had the exact same experience today. However, I haven’t backed up my data in some time, so I wanted to keep the dead HD and try to recover some of it. Before I even took the laptop out of it’s bag, the guy said he’d replace it (it’s only five months old, still under warranty). The guy kept pushing for the hard drive the entire time I was there. He didn’t seem to understand that it had four years of family photos, not to mention my taxes and saved credit card numbers. On the way home it really struck me how strange it was that they wanted my hard drive so badly. I’d heard that they only let you keep one, so I didn’t let them touch the old one. After expressing my dissatisfaction with my $1,100 computers failure after just five months, the store manager came out and proceeded to make personal insults for ten minutes. I had always thought of Apple as a high-class organization that had mastered the art of customer service, but this experience really opened my eyes. There’s something shady going on with that company, I’m sorry to say.

  49. slrman says:

    Because your data has value (remember DRM?) if they refuse to return it or your drive, you have a legal case. Find a DRM-savvy lawyer and file a class-action suit. For once, you can make the lobbyist-driven DRM laws work for you.

    In other words, syick it to them big time.