Talking tech since 2003

When you return an item to Best Buy, are you sure that you’re wiping all of the data off of your machine? If not, it’s imperative that you do so, at least if you own a Mac. My latest experience purchasing an open box MacBook Air leads me to believe that not all Geek Squad members are particularly knowledgable when it comes to wiping and reinstalling OS X on a Mac, and that means someone could walk into Best Buy, buy your old machine and wind up with your old data.

macbook-air-13I’ve been looking into the mid-2013 MacBook Air since it launched and trying to decide whether or not I wanted the 11.6-inch model or the 13-incher. I finally decided on the larger Air and, as fate would have it, Best Buy was selling it at a discounted price of $999. Unfortunately, my local stores were all sold out, but the closest one did have an open box model that was considered “excellent” and about $80 cheaper. I clicked “Order” about an hour before the store opened and waited patiently.

Finally, I received the email telling me that my order was ready to be picked up. I hopped in the car, drove to the store and made a beeline for the customer service desk where in-store pickup orders are held. After pulling up my order and checking my ID and credit card, the store associate looked at me with a pained expression.

“We haven’t had a chance to clear this system yet,” he said. “The Geek Squad is working on it right now, but it’ll probably take about two or three hours.”

He then took down my phone number and assured me that he’d call the second the MacBook Air was finished and ready to pick up. But I never got that call, and I actually had to call back into Best Buy the next day to confirm that the Geek Squad folks were done doing their thing and that the machine was ready to go.

Once I picked up the machine and got it home, though, it became evident to me that the Geek Squad guys might not know what they’re doing. I didn’t open the MacBook Air up to a fresh new install of Mountain Lion. Instead, I was looking at someone else’s desktop. Downloaded apps were uninstalled, but there were still files in the Downloads folder and the previous owner’s administrator account was still tied to the machine, preventing me from making any changes without knowing the password.

The Geek Squad team at Best Buy doesn’t wipe the hard drive and reinstall OS X. Instead, it appears they’re simply uninstalling apps and trying to delete personal information if they come across it. And that’s pretty mortifying if you also consider that, before your data is deleted, those Best Buy employees could be looking at it.

So here’s a tip for you, Geek Squad members: Restart the machine. Command + R. Use the disk utility to erase the data on the SSD and then connect to the Internet and reinstall OS X from scratch. There’s no reason for you to go into the operating system and poke around in someone’s stuff, and just going in and deleting what you can see doesn’t mean the system is wiped.

I waited a day for the Geek Squad to do something I wound up having to do myself, again, but that’s not the most egregious sin. Had there been sensitive information buried somewhere in the laptop, and had I been an identify thief and not a tech blogger, someone’s life could have been a lot more miserable thanks to Best Buy.

Hopefully this is not a widespread practice, and hopefully it’s one that is fixed immediately.

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