Stickman Readers' Submissions February 23rd, 2006

Where is Your Data?


A very strange and quite disturbing series of events happened to me this week. I’ll spin the tale then let you decide if and how you would respond to it. This is gonna take a while:

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For my upcoming trip to the US, I wanted to try to carry with me all my data and files and especially emails. I trotted off to the local computer shop planning to buy a USB-flash drive. The biggest they had was 1gigabyte for just under $75;
a price only slightly higher than on But for $90 I could get a full 40 gigabyte notebook-sized (2.5") hard-drive.

My initial inclination had been to simply yank the hard drive out on my PC (a full-sized drive) and carry it with me, but that didn’t guarantee that I’d be able to synch it to my daughter’s laptop. Hence the quest for
a different way to carry the data. Since a 40 gigabyte 2.5" drive could also potentially be used to back-up my entire system after the
trip, it seemed like the best option. I had access to a 'case' for a 2.5" drive. So
I retrieved that case and took it back to the shop where I purchased a SEAGATE 40 gigabyte drive.

With the sales clerk, I walked from the sales area of the store over to the service area. While the tech was placing my new drive the old case, I was browsing the laptop brochures, i.e. not watching the tech. When I returned to the tech, he was plugging
the USB cables (1 data, 1 power) into a laptop on the counter. He proceeded to show me that the new drive appeared on the MY COMPUTER screen as an additional drive and that the green light was on on the drive box. All was well; nothing crazy yet.

I drove home and plugged the 2 cables into my PC. All was NOT well.

Nothing happened, no drive was detected. OR I should say no DRIVER was detected. I'm still running WIN98 and it needs a driver for each device. A call back to the shop confirmed that any driver belonged not to the new drive but to the
case! Strange but true, but a short search turned up the CD with the proper driver. All was seemingly well, but not quite.

Here's where is gets CRAZY: I opened the 40 gigabyte drive to find it FULL of data! Thousands of files & programs, hundreds of photos, all belonging to some Brit — I’ll call him Bert! Not being a voyeur, I didn't read
his letters to Mom or open the directory labelled as 'bank acct'. I did a search for our local area code, 038, and found his phone number.

Now the dilemma was what to do next. I was creating different scenarios. Could the shop have pulled a switch? I thought that the sales clerk had pulled the drive out of the display case and opened the foil-wrapper. It SHOULD have been a new
drive. Did she pull a sleight of hand and slip me a "used" drive? Was it a stolen drive that some how wasn't wiped clean? How else could I get Bert’s data?

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Not wanting to be 'implicated'; not being sure how this would be received, I went to a pay phone and called Bert. He seemed an affable enough guy. He allowed as how his laptop was currently at THAT shop for repairs. At least it
wasn't a stolen drive! We began to speculate on what might have occurred. Seemingly the tech used the nearest computer, Bert's, rather than a shop computer, to test my drive. But it couldn't have been attached there for more than
30-50 seconds! How could the entire WIN-XP operating system and all the program files and gigabytes of data be downloaded onto the 'new' hard drive in that time? I speculated that IF Bert's hard drive had been removed from his laptop
and was laying on the counter was it possible that the tech pick up HIS drive and installed it into MY case? Seemingly, not! How would Bert 's computer be running without its hard drive installed ?!?!?!

Let’s take a step back. The first thing I did on opening the hard drive and discovering the data was to call back to the shop. For some inexplicable reason they were closed on a week day (a lady answered the phone to tell me that)
but would reopen on the following morn. I considered just re-formatting the hard drive and blitzing his data. But on closer examination the drive numbers didn't add up. My system was saying that 19 gigabyte of data were occupying a 20 gigabyte
space partitioned into 2 segments. WHY wasn't it reading as 19 in 40? On the phone Bert said he had a 20 gigabyte drive. I was only showing 20 gigabyte on what should have been a 40! So, I popped open the case and it read SEAGATE 40 gigabyte
with a test date of JAN 06. Seemingly, the new one that she pulled out of the display case and unlikely to be Bert's actual drive.

At this point it seemed that Bert still had access to his original system and drive and that there was no need for us to meet and exchange drives in any way. I'm still baffled by the disappearance of the second 20 gigabyte on MY drive.
Why is the system only reading HIS 20?

I was at the shop soon after it opened the next day. I asked to see the owner / manager / ’big boss’. I explained what I had versus what I thought I’d bought. I noted that they had sold me a technically "used"
drive as new! She was unimpressed. I had them plug the drive into one of their computers to show them Bert’s data. I asked them to re-format the drive. They simply walked away with that drive and returned with a new one which they installed
in my case. I asked to be shown that it was indeed ‘pristine’. It was. But they failed to hear that I was running WIN98. They formatted it for WIN-XP. After an hour and a half of frustration back at home, I returned to the shop and
complained that my computer was unable to access the drive. They had no computer in the entire shop running WIN98. They did indeed re-format the drive to make it compatible with WIN98.

I still question what happened to Bert’s data.

Did they deem to re-format the disk?

Why had they used a disk out of the display case to mirror his drive during the repair process then fail to re-format it? Why would they then pass this drive off as new?

Could the same happen to YOUR data if you went to that shop? Do you trust them with your computer and your business? Why were they so nonchalant about their error? What did they do with Bert’s data?

The shop in question is across the street from FOODLAND.

I, for one, will NEVER do business there again. I wouldn’t trust them with MY data!

In whose hands might YOUR data wind up?

Stickman's thoughts:

038, the area code for Pattaya. Oooh, imagine if you had a hard drive of photos taken in Pattaya. Just where might they end up? Anyone remember the Anna video?!

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