Best Buy's Geek Squad is one of the largest computer repair businesses in the country, but are they snooping through your private files? The answer may be yes.
When you hand your computer over to Geek Squad, you sign away at least some of your rights to privacy. You're required to sign a contract saying Best Buy will report illegal material to the FBI, and the FBI has trained Geek Squad employees on how to search through your files — and even paid them as much as $500 when they've found something. That's a pretty good incentive to dig through your data.
This issue is the subject of the court case USA vs. Mark Rettenmaier in which a Geek Squad employee found child pornography in the unallocated space on Rettenmaier's computer. But "unallocated space" is reserved for files that are no longer accessible through normal means — they're files that have been deleted but remain hidden on your hard drive. And you can't access them without specialized software. Because the image was hiding in this unallocated space, there's no way to know for certain if Rettenmaier intentionally downloaded the photo or even knew it was there. It may have been downloaded automatically if he visited a fraudulent website or picked up a computer virus, and then deleted just as quietly when his browser cleaned out old files or his antivirus removed traces of a virus.
While we don't know whether Rettenmaier is innocent, it raises the question of just how much the Geek Squad goes through your private files. Best Buy insists that its employees only go through files as needed to make repairs and that any payments employees may have taken from the FBI were "result of extremely poor individual judgment."
But it's not the first time privacy issues have come up with the Geek Squad. Employees have been accused of stealing and sharing nude photos and pornographic videos, as well as holding racy photos for ransom. Though there have only been a handful of incidents reported amongst the countless computers Geek Squad services every year, it does suggest that they can — and sometimes do — dig through your data.
So what can you do about it? While there's no guarantee that Geek Squad employees (or other repair technicians) can't find your data, you can protect yourself by:
- Deleting any files you wouldn't want someone else to see
- Logging out of all of web-based services and software and turning off automatic logins, especially for services and software like Dropbox and Evernote that may store personal data
- Clearing your browser cache and history
Just be sure to backup all of your files first — which you should do before sending your computer in for repair, anyway.
[Image credit: Geek Squad car via BigStockPhoto]