updated 04:25 pm EST, Fri November 19, 2010
Dell lawsuit docs show active hiding of issue
More documents have been unsealed in a lawsuit over defective Dell workstations that have revealed the company directly told staff to hide the extent of the problems. Presentations from 2003 to 2005, and even sometime later, told workers to not only avoid telling customers "proactively" about capacitor problems with Optiplex workstations but to "emphasize uncertainty" and cloud the issue. Staff who questioned the wisdom of replacing broken systems with known flawed parts were told that this strategy, rather than a permanent fix, was ultimately the most helpful.
"Our approach to this issue delivers the best customer experience because it minimizes disruption," a copy of a presentation obtained by the New York Times read.
The company also only actively focused its attention on corporate buyers whose absence would have a competitive impact. Dell focused on replacing systems in the field first for firms that were both big enough and likely to switch to HP or another rival, followed by those from whom a reduction in sales was the only major issue. Active fixes usually came for those companies who either passed a certain failure rate or were too valuable to lose.
The company insisted there wasn't data loss despite evidence from users of just such a problem.
Dell spokesman David Frink has tried to downplay the practices, noting that predictions of failure rates as high as 45 to 97 percent were peak and ultimately saw a lower, though still very high, 22 percent of systems replaced. He added that Dell had changed its behavior since that period. The lawsuit, filed by Advanced Internet Technologies, was ultimately settled in September this year.
The policies don't reflect Dell's current behavior but contrast sharply with the attitudes taken towards what was an industry-wide capacitor problem in the era. Most other companies, including Apple, didn't necessarily address issues immediately but were considerably quicker to start recalls and try to engineer permanent fixes. Power Macs and other computers were affected by a wave of bad capacitors that could burst and otherwise fail prematurely, rendering the mainboard inoperable.