Computer Repairs, Consumer Protection

This one has been making the rounds: – Marketplace – What you should know before you call a geek in to fix your computer

Typical television story: Several computer repair technicians fooled by television team. Consumers be warned.
[Disclaimer: though I’ve been troubleshooting most of my own and some of other people’s computer-related issues, I’m no technician and have never been one. I do consider myself something of a power-user and enough of a fan of geek culture to half-jokingly call myself a “wannabe geek.”]

Comments on the show’s site are particularly numerous and many of them are quite virulent. Comments on the Consumerist page about the Marketplace piece seem more insightful than those on the CBC site. That might have to do with the Consumerist coverage of the Geek Squad scandal making Consumerist readers aware of the current debates about computer techs.

While I do agree with many of the comments about the report being biased/one-sided/skewed/sensationalist, there could be more discussion about consumer protection and about technical training. I even think that the show’s overall presentation style may have generated more knee-jerk reactions than reflections on the state of the computer repair industry. If so, that’s quite sad.

Come to think of it, the segment’s title could lead to something interesting: what is it that people should know before they get service from a computer technician?

A general idea could be: “computer repairs are often quite expensive, quality of service may vary, there are other issues to consider besides the cost of the repairs.”

The show itself mentioned a few pieces of advice from people with whom they talked:

  • Fix it yourself
  • Search online for tech advice
  • Take control. Back up your data
  • Keep virus and spyware protection up to date
  • Get advice from support lines
  • Get referrals
  • Get more than one quote

All good advice, IMHO. Not that easy to implement, though. And several points remain, in terms of consumer protection.
This all reminds me of a recent episode (#69) of the Real Deal podcast about how to “Be your own IT department.” Simple yet useful advice on how to set things up for a friend or family member who may need simple tech support with their computer.

Some ideas popping in my head about computer repairs:

  • Training in computer maintenance is valuable. Maybe it should be provided as a community service.
  • Given the stakes (especially in terms of privacy), certification programs and hiring requirements for computer technicians should probably be as strict as those for other professions.
  • Some association/union/corporation for computer technicians could help deal with issues like these as is the case with other professions.
  • Though analogies with other professions are tempting, there are issues which seem quite specific to computer techs (especially having to do with data privacy and value).
  • Maybe we just need computers that are easier to troubleshoot.

Ah, well…


Author: enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast.

8 thoughts on “Computer Repairs, Consumer Protection”

  1. There are many free resources on the Internet for consumers to learn computer repair and maintenance. Also there are many video guides.

    However, the main problem is the lack of tiem to learn and lack of time to fix computer errors. Therefore consumers are happy to pay and get it fixed.

  2. I think that all this shows how vulnerable people can be and how easily they can be relieved of cash when they have no knowledge of a particular subject, which is a real shame as basic computer maintenance is not hard to learn.

  3. Greg,
    Thanks for your comments. Actually, several of those who posted comments on the CBC and Consumerist sites seem to agree with you. One of the most criticised points was the price for the RAM charged by the repair tech (seems reasonable in context, though cheaper RAM can be found online).
    And many people would say that several industries are similarly affected by varying degrees of expertise.
    I’d still say that the few pieces of advice the show does contain (repair yourself, get more quotes…) are quite valid. And we still need to think about computer repairs as a broad issue. In some cases, computers are more sensitive than even someone’s body! 😎

  4. Thanks for the link to the Marketplace episode. It’s good to actually see it. There was nothing “easy” or “simple” about the first test they gave them, especially with the design of computers nowadays. My hats off to the techs that went with the motherboard as the issue. It’s a good call, even if it was wrong. No video card, builtin video chipset on the board, throw in the garbage Microsoft PC97 standards that get rid of any post beeps and you go motherboard, video card or memory. The bottom of the list is deliberate tampering of the hardware, especially with a customer (producer) pretending to be a computer novice that would never ever open up a computer and tamper with the components.

    The operating system file corruption test was better test in my opinion. As for some techs finding a virus, could be true or the customer’s could be getting lied to. Unless they stated that is was a DoD wipe (writing zeros to everything 3 times), a fresh install of XP from CD (genuine) and the unit was never hooked up to the internet (ipscanners/IRCBot virus) then who’s to say it wasn’t infected. It would be pretty damn ironic if there really was a virus on the unit, then the show slagged the techs that had the customer’s best interest at heart, it’s not like these techs were making any additional money for their time by scanning the customer’s system for viruses, they did it for free.

  5. Interesting points. The Marketwatch piece doesn’t really show marked differences between smaller and bigger shops but it could be useful to look at them.

  6. Great article.
    I took interest in it because I own a computer repair business.
    Two differences between these large companies and smaller business like mine are: 1. Small shops take their reputation more seriously, 2. Small shops typically have a more experienced owner/operator doing the repairs rather than some underpaid tech who is more inclined to tell you to take it into the shop or buy parts you don’t need. I think we all know who that is referring to!

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