Who should pay for lost data?

After a month of back and forth, the computer store that lost my co-worker’s old hard drive instead of transferring its irreplaceable contents to his newly purchased, US$1,000 PC has agreed to cough up $500 worth of compensation. Seems fair to me, despite the fact that our man was a bad boy about backup.

My colleague’s wife, however, still believes that the store got off easy.

And many who posted comments at Buzzblog after the first installment of this tale — those who placed responsibility for this mess exclusively on the shoulders of my co-worker — will find the store’s settlement unnecessarily generous, if not obscenely so.

From the original post: “Gone for good is seven years worth of correspondence between three generations of the buyer’s family, as well as 2,000 e-mail addresses and all the administrative files for a fledgling news site. The stuff was on a drive that the store — not one of the big chains — tossed out instead of copying over to a new PC it sold a colleague of mine. (Yes, we beat him mercilessly for not backing it up.) … Your assignment here is to help determine proper compensation for this loss.”

Dozens of you took to the assignment with great relish, and the range of opinions on the matter could not have been wider:

“I can’t get past the lack of a backup. If he had done one before having them do the transfer, how much would they owe him? It’s kind of like film developers (remember film?) being responsible for damaged film but not lost pictures.”

“Gotta say they should get nothing; they are lucky to be offered store credit!”

“I’m sorry, the store owes them nothing. I really do feel for this customer, but anyone leaving off a system with any vendor, without fully backing it up first, is their own worst enemy.”

“There is no fair reason he should expect this computer store to reimburse him for data he was responsible for. Pure and simple.”

As is so often the case in these kinds of disagreements, calling something pure and simple doesn’t make it pure and simple. Not everyone was willing to absolve the store of responsibility or financial liability.

“Picture taking some very important documents to FedEx to have a copy made — and they shred them instead. Was it your fault you didn’t make a copy before you went to make a copy? No. It’s their fault for messing up data they explicitly took responsibility for by agreeing to copy it.”

“Even if the owner had backups, throwing away a disk drive with personal information on it is irresponsible. I would ask for the cost of the computer and software and tell the store that they are not off the hook if my identity is stolen from their carelessness!”

The hard-core among the store apologists truly puzzle me. I mean not only are they hellbent on seeing the victim punished for his failure to back up his data, they apparently think so little of our rights as consumers to give a grievously careless vendor a free pass.

The good news here is that it seems as though both my co-worker and the computer store have learned from the episode.

“I note that because of my experience the store now returns an old hard drive to the customer,” says my colleague. “I now take much more seriously than ever the necessity to back up our precious family files, thousands of which were lost.”

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