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Tuesday, 09 August 2011 17:25

Apple: different strokes for different folks


Does Apple, a quintessentially American company, follow one of the more insidious practices that has occurred on occasion in its country of origin and racially profile those who visit its stores?

That's a question I've been struggling with since last week when I went to my local store, in the suburb of Doncaster in Melbourne, to collect a MacBook that I had handed in a day earlier.

My experiences at the Apple Store have not exactly been salutary but this time, when I went in to obtain an estimate of the repair costs of the MacBook, I had no reason to complain – initially.

The MacBook in question is more than four years old and out of warranty. It keeps requiring re-installation of the operating system and finally the installation got so corrupt that it would not accept an install from the only DVD which came with it, an upgrade to Leopard.

The man who attended to me offered to reinstall the operating system from scratch without any charge even though the machine was out of warranty.

He also went so far as to say that if the hard drive did give any further trouble, then I could install a new drive myself to avoid paying the rather large amount that Apple charges and bring it in to get the operating system reinstalled.

This was on Monday, August 1.

The man also told me that if I was prepared to wait an hour, he would get the OS installed and give me the MacBook right away. Else, he said, he would inform me when it was ready and I could come back at my convenience.

The same afternoon, he called and told me that the job was finished and that I could pick up the MacBook. I replied that I would come in the following morning.

On Tuesday morning, I went to the store to collect my MacBook. There was a small queue and I joined; some of those standing in line had a sheet of white paper, the acknowledgement that the store gives when one hands in hardware for a job.

Each in turn went to the girl at the counter and was waved on to collect their goods, here or there. No great fanfare at all.

But when my turn came I was asked for identity. I must add here that I was the only non-white person standing in the queue.

It was 9.30am and at that time in the morning I am not a pretty sight. If you go to bed at 5am — that's normal for me — if you are unshaven, if you wear thongs, jeans and a T-shirt, you do stand out from the crowd at a place like the Apple Store.

But in my hands I had the same piece of paper as everyone else. That did not seem to matter.

But I'm a somewhat doughty character. I refused to give any ID and insisted on getting my laptop. Finally, the girl gave in and went and got my hardware. I then asked to see her supervisor.

After some delay, a guy and came over. Surprisingly the last time I had asked to see a supervisor at the store, a white man had been thrust forward. This time the man was of southeast Asian origin.

He asked me what was the matter. I asked him why I alone of all the people there had been asked to provide ID. He started babbling something about it being a policy to ask everyone for ID. Now I prepared to do many things that early in the morning but listening to high-grade BS  is not one of them. I told him so and left the store.

It took me a few days to recover from this blatant discrimination. I then wrote to Apple, asking for their take on what had happened. There are four people who deal with media queries and I sent my query to each and every one of them.

None of them has bothered to even acknowledge my query, leave alone apologise. When one becomes the biggest technology company by capitalisation, there appears to be a certain degree of arrogance that accompanies it. A sense of being able to do anything and get away with it generally follows.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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