OLPC Crisis: Customer Data Lost

Before you read my original posting, check out this link...

Internal Patriot/Brightstar database errors may cause updates to be lost

Customer service (PatriotLLC) and/or the shipper's (Brighstar's) databases are known to have internal integrity issues, such that order changes - such as corrected shipping addresses - may be overwritten and therefore lost by subsequent updates or syncronization activities. (The database is reportedly Microsoft SQL Server, but would be controlled and populated with custom programming by Patriot and Brightstar).

Many donors affected by issues the two issues above have called or emailed customer service at Patriot numerous times to provide corrected information (such as the lines that were dropped from their shipping address - see above), but the original data would later mysteriously reappear in the database, with the later changes lost. Patriot representatives have insisted they are following correct procedures to update customer information; if this is true, then it may be the fault of the custom programming or the way the database is managed. For example, an operational or programming procedure that would cause partial or complete overwriting of records in one database (e.g., Patriot's) with older or simply different information from the other database (e.g., Brightstar's) would explain these observations and continuing issues.

Donors affected by this issue may have no recourse but to keep contacting Patriot by phone (reportedly more effective than email, which may or may not be acknowledged or processed by them) in the hope that one of the changes will eventually "take" and the order will be sent to shipping.

There has been an undercurrent flowing in the Bay Area and online about all of the people who ordered OLCP XO-1 laptops on the first day. I am sorry to inform you -- your customer data has probably been lost. Most of you will never receive your laptops. Why? Well, it appears that the database kept with customer information became corrupted and thousands of users who purchased laptops that first day can never be contacted, since their contact information has been lost. Only if you actually reach out and try to get in touch with them, will you have a chance. Here are the barriers to even that scenario...

* The hold times on the customer service line are greater than 1 hour, from numerous reports, and my personal investigation!
* Email responses generally take up to two weeks!
* The email responses are useless!

I now provide a very funny email for supporting evidence. Please note the date that I received this email :-)

From: Support
Date: Jan 18, 2008 3:50 PM
Subject: RE: Thank You for Donating to One Laptop per Child
To: Kristian Erik Hermansen

If you have not yet received your laptop, we are working hard to get it to
you. If you live within the United States, you should receive your laptop no
later than January 15, 2008. If you live in Canada, you should receive your
laptop in the January/February 2008 timeframe. FedEx will be providing a
tracking number once they receive your package.

Thank You
Donor Services

Now, this issue appears funny, but my 11-year old brother is still wondering where his laptop has gone. I promised to buy a laptop for Xmas so he could use it away from home, but I warned him about not receiving it in time for the holidays. However, it has almost come to the point where the OLPC donation project could be considered criminal (WARNING: I have met some of the OLPC members, and they are not criminals). The thousands of customers who purchased on the first day will never receive their laptops. However, since they waited so long to find this out, their credit card company will likely refuse to issue a credit for the purchase.

Additionally, OLPC support claims that no refunds can be given after 30 days from the purchase. Hrmm, but they want you to keep waiting? This is a serious issue now and should not be taken lightly. How many of you are still wondering when you will receive your OLPC laptop(s)? Post in the comments here and perhaps we can come to some resolution about the best way to fix the problem :-(

Many have asked how I know that customer data from first day orders was lost. I spoke to an OLPC representative, after waiting on hold for over an hour, and she informed me that they had problems with the first day order shipping addresses. She even told me that they had a separate database, and she was no actually able to find me in the original database, until she looked up my order in that "other" database. I believe that this was the issue. I ordered over the phone. Perhaps the phone representatives had a different method of putting orders into the database than online customers that first day. I am unsure. However, I am sure that a representative told me that thy had "lost customer information on the first day". Having met many others who were wondering where their laptops were, I felt the need to post here about it. I am sure that the OLPC staff is making their best efforts to correct the issues. However, it also appear that they have no way of contacting some first day customers, as their data may have become lost. If you were one of these people, I encourage you to contact the OLPC support number and find out if you are one of those people and correct your order information.

On Jan 24, 2008 3:27 PM, Nathan Haines wrote:
> I forgot to set my alarm for 3am and ended up ordering my first laptop
> online around 9:30am. It arrived on December 21st.

So Nathan's info seems to indicate that the ordering issues may have been resolved by 9:30 AM PST, perhaps.

I believed that it was illegal to charge credit cards unless you have
actually shipped the product to the customer. At least, in 2003 when
I first built ZeroToys.com for a customer, that was the merchant
account's policy. We were not allowed to charge the customer's credit
card until shipment. Doing so would otherwise be against the law.
Has anyone else heard this policy or can refute it?


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I'm the author.

Anonymous's picture

I'm the main author of the wiki article you quote here, and definitely the source of the quotation you snipped concerning the databases,

However, understand that I don't work for OLPC, and I don't have any contact with their staff. Everything I wrote there is pretty much speculation and educated guesswork - I *think* it's mostly true, but we can't really know for certain. We're on the outside looking in.

What is sure is that hundreds or thousands of people have called the OLPC's (contracted) customer service center, gave them new/better/complete shipping addresses, and then had those changes disappear completely the next day or the next week. Poof. So we extrapolate from there based on really, really limited information.

As far as your own guesses: I think it's *possible* there are two separate databases (one for day one orders, one for all the others), but this also could just be the rep's interpretation of something she really doesn't understand. I do know that phone and mail order donors tended to have a far higher success rate than those who used Paypal (like me)...though that probably isn't much consolation to you or your little brother.

And while I'm sure your headline is technically accurate (data has been lost, for sure), I actually think it's likely that everyone who ordered and paid is eventually going to get their XO laptop. It may be near Easter by then, but they will get them.

good luck,

I guess I'm lucky to have received mine

John Abreau's picture

I ordered mine at 6:10 AM the first day, and the box was
waiting for me when I got home from work on December 21.

I didn't get any email notification of the shipment before it
arrived; I received notice about a week later that the
shipment was on its way.

I second that. I received

Anonymous's picture

I second that. I received the XO about a week before the email came that said "Hey it's on it's way"... I thought it was pretty funny.

I got my two Xo OLPC units, with no problems...

Paul Reiber's picture

...but indeed, I didn't get in line early to order them; I ordered mine some weeks after the offer had been running.

Regarding refunds; I doubt seriously if they'll have any problems giving you back your money, if indeed they even actually took it from you.

Yes, this is an unfortunate situation, but you've got to realize that the organization is NOT your typical laptop-vendor-company, so some flexibility and leniency is definitely appropriate.

Best regards,
-Paul Reiber

Yes, they did take the money

Hopeful's picture

OLPC charged customers immediately (or within a few days) after taking an order. Unlike most online purchasing companies that only charge when they ship to the customer, OLPC charges immediately, and then makes you wait.
~Still Waiting

OLPC program

Anonymous's picture

Here's an article posted on January 4, 2008, regarding the OLPC project:

AP) -- Citing disagreements with the organization, Intel Corp. said Thursday it has abandoned the One Laptop Per Child program, dealing a big blow to the ambitious project seeking to bring millions of low-cost laptops to children in developing countries.

So, how convenient that these folks have now 'lost' all the donation records, eh?


Kris Amundson's picture

All the donation records were not lost, just those on the first day the program went into effect. What does quoting an Intel press release have anything to do with OLPC's donation records?

Given that XO's are AMD based I would focus your conspiracy theories more towards Intel's direction.. but thanks for the daily dose of FUD.

There should be no problem

Anonymous's picture

There should be no problem disputing the credit card charge, even after this long

I got mine

Anonymous's picture

I did order the first day, but shortly thereafter got a letter asking for my mailing address and claiming the one I had given it was not in the UPS database. I gave the same address again. I received the the letter shown above several weeks later. I replied and the machine arrived (with a mangled address) on Jan 15th.

In case of disputes, the credit card company has enough records to show who ordered a machine, and OLPC can use that to confirm or deny claims. I don't think anyone willing to request a refund will be out of pocket, although they may miss their chance to own a machine.

Daniel Feenberg