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Geek Squad Staff Snoop Through Customers' Computers

by on May 24, 2017
in Computer Safety & Support, News, Computers and Software, Blog :: 6 comments

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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]


Discussion loading

That's a good idea, but...

From Cynthia Roberson Armistead on May 25, 2017 :: 3:26 pm

I can tell you that many, if not most, of the people I deal with in the tech support world don’t take their computers in for service until they’re well past the point where they CAN take the recommended measures. I don’t know what the solution is, other than “don’t have any files you’d have a problem with someone seeing” (which isn’t a “solution”). Backing up is always a good idea, in any case.

Reply

This is so true. I

From Deanna on May 27, 2017 :: 6:58 am

This is so true. I had to take my computer into Geek Squad after the screen just went black & I couldn’t even see anything. There was nothing I could do at that point. I have an all-in-one desktop.

Reply

My thoughts

From Mr j on June 08, 2021 :: 5:53 pm

Why would any repair person need to look thru ur photos in order to repair a device? And how do u backup all ur files before taking it in for repair? Probly cant do that if its in need of repair. Right?

Reply

YES, SOME REPAIR PEOPLE SNOOP IN FILES

From RICH on October 03, 2022 :: 4:14 pm

I’m an annuyal subsciber to an extremely popular retailer which offers repair services thru a division; everyone knows their name. Their foreign technicians often use software to “take over” the computer and run cleaning programs, but I can watch. In 2020 I was watching when the repairman visited my x-rated photo files about 10 minutes into his scanning ritual, as he somehow thought I wasn’t constantly watching what he was doing. I had to wrestle the cursor from him and X out of my own sexually explicit photo files! I don’t know if he duped or just looked. I did not report it, as the company would simply recount how they train their technicians not to do that.  Very frustrating, and I don’t know a solution.

Reply

They ARE doing shady stuff

From Julia on September 24, 2023 :: 4:45 pm

The first time something strange happened was in May / June 2023. I was offered a tune up by this Big Box store, where I have an annual membership, after a basic 10min tech supp session. It took 20 more mins and I didnt watch that part. I thot all was well until my itunes stopped later. One of my newest playlists with recently purchased afrobeats music was stripped out and my authorization not returned. The big box electronics store I have the TA thru denied that was possible. Apple itunes assured me it WAS possible.

Today I escalated a call to a ‘supervisor,’ who helped me with a few tasks as well as a data transfer to my external HD at the end.

He said he had to stay in the remote with my laptop to ensure it didnt glitch. So I chatted him up while watching the screen. And it went well until I asked to disconnect 15mins in. The tech said I shouldn’t disconnect as he had to finish making his notes! This has never been a request! I had already watched for 15 mins(!). So I gave him a few more mins. When I called up the chat box to disconnect myself, he suddenly overrode me, and did some things, like he was rushing, and shut me down without a word in the middle of the data transfer and hungbthe phone call up on me as well!!!!!

I called to report it to ‘a supervisor,’ but I think they ARE stealing data / cloning our files using a pretext like this man did. And the so called ‘supervisor to the supervisor’(!) pretended surprise. I think they are all in collusion and the Big Box store could not care less about us, the customer.

Im done. These Big Box chains needs to pull their tech supports out of India, China, Vietnam. But they wont as long as they can sell us overpriced products and provide inferior TA after purchases! Something is very wrong

Reply

Hi Julia,The behavior you're describing

From Josh Kirschner on September 25, 2023 :: 9:44 am

Hi Julia,

The behavior you’re describing sounds more like the activity of a malicious fake support than actual big box store support. How were you contacted by this store and how are you sure it was the store contacting you and not someone pretending to be the store? When you contacted them the second time, where did you get the contact information from? Directly through the big box store support website or elsewhere?

Any links/info you provide would be helpful.

Josh

Reply

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