Is OLPC a Fraud?

no_laptops_per_child.jpgBack in December of 2007 I took OLPC – the One Laptop Per Child project up on it’s special year-end offer. This offer included two laptops: one which would be donated to a country in need of the devices to support children’s education, and a second, sent to the individual making the donation. In addition, the offer featured a year’s worth of Wi-Fi access at T-Mobile hotspots at Starbucks and many other locations as part of the deal. The price was $399 – plus shipping for a totaly of $424.00.

Many people were disappointed by the fact that production delays – delays of which we were not made aware prior to purchasing the products – resulted in a substantial lag from the time that the purchase was initiated until the product was received.

Sporadic updates from OLPC did not provide adequate information and several months went by with no news, no confirmation that the donated laptops had reached their intended destinations nor even word on when the unlucky buyers could expect to receive their own computers.

During this time I took it upon myself to write OLPC a number of email messages. Initially they centered around having the company at least send the access information for the T-Mobile hotspot part of the deal and eventually they became queries as to when (or even if) I could expect to see my laptop. No response or even acknowledgment was ever received.

Finally, on April first I received a message from OLPC indicating that my laptop had shipped. Unfortunately, the delay between when I had made the purchase and when the device shipped had been so long that my mailing address had changed during this period. I attempted to notify OLPC that this was the case to get the shipment redirected, however, as with my other messages this one too went ignored.

According to tracking information the shipment arrived at my prior address and was returned to the shipper. Additional tracking information indicated that they (OLPC) signed for the returned shipment on April 28th.

Another email requesting that the shipment be made to the correct address went out and again it went unanswered. After several days I wrote again – this time threatening to blog about my very frustrating OLPC experience if I didn’t get an immediate response.

Apparently threats are effective as someone named C. Harris wrote back to me, apologized for failing to respond to my prior message and promised to update my shipping information and – in the person’s words – make sure that my laptop was shipped “as soon as possible”.

Well, as of today, May 24th, nearly three weeks after receiving the email from C. Harris I have yet to receive the laptop. “As soon as possible” must mean something pretty different to the OLPC people than it does to the rest of the world.

Seeing as how OLPC has had my money for about six months, and seeing as how they don’t care enough to respond to their customers, let alone honor the commitments they’ve made to them, I’ve started to wonder if OLPC is a fraud.

How do we know, for example, that the second laptop that we paid for and which was supposed to be sent in my case to a child in Cambodia was actually ever produced, let alone shipped to Cambodia and delivered to a waiting child? What proof do we have? None. Has OLPC sent me a photo of a happy child enjoying a computer that has a conspicuous serial number on it corresponding to a receipt in my possession? No. In fact not one shred of evidence exists that OLPC has done anything that they promised that they would do for the money I sent them..

Have a significant number of OLPC computers actually been produced and sent to children around the world? We don’t really know. What we do know is that OLPC failed to divulge that substantial delays would be associated with the pre-year end purchases people made. We know that OLPC ignores customer email messages and we know that OLPC makes promises – like shipping a laptop as soon as possible – that they don’t bother to keep.

We know that OLPC has my money and likely the money of many other people and yet has not provided the product that was promised for that money or proof that the other unit actually went were they said it was going to go.

At a minimum these are atrocious and highly questionable business practices at worst OLPC is committing fraud.

I have sent them a final email notifying them of the unacceptable nature of their failures. I have promised them that I would expose their multiple failures to the community and file complaints with the appropriate consumer protection groups and civil authorities and I have demanded both proof that my first computer was delivered to Cambodia and that my second one reach me no later than Wednesday the 28th of May, one month from the day that got whatever it was they sent me last April.

How they respond will determine my future course of action. In the meantime, if you’ve had a similarly bad experience at the hands of OLPC and their “diligent” staff, please comment.

The text of my most recent letter as well as the one prior to that and OLPC’s one brief reply are below.

Dear C. Harris,

As with everything else related to my experience contributing to OLPC’s cause, this too has been unacceptable. When I last wrote stating that I had reached the limits of my patience waiting for a laptop that I had purchased in DECEMBER!!!! Of 2007!!!! I was already upset. When my email that explained that because of the delay and the fact that people at your customer service center apparently don’t bother to read or to respond to email was likewise ignored, I determined to expose this situation to the larger world which would have likely been at a minimum embarrassing and more than likely actually damaging to your efforts.

It is with some degree of incredulity that I find myself actually writing this email at this time. Just what is going on there that even the probability that failure to make good on your obligation – an obligation due to the implicit contract that exists since I paid for goods that should have been delivered months ago – would result in very damaging press is insufficient to motivate an adequate response such that my problem would be solved?

The only reason that I did not go through with exposing OLPC’s failure to respond to my multiple email queries was as a result of your letter assuring me that you had addressed my issue and made certain that customer care now had the correct information and would be sending my laptop to the right address.

Well, like everything else with OLPC this has proven to be a disappointment. You responded to my message on the eighth of May. It is now the 24th. This is almost THREE MORE WEEKS. A bicycle courier could have delivered my computer from New York in this amount of time!!!

Just what is going on at OLPC that someone that paid for a computer in December of 2007 and has made five – yes F-I-V-E!!! – written requests attempting to get his laptop delivered is still waiting for that laptop more than half a year later?!?! What excuse can you possibly give me that would account for the fact that even allowing for the ludicrous and interminable delay associated with your insufficient production methods as well as ground shipping, inadequate staff and a bad mailing address that a package that had been returned to your facilities (and this return is confirmed via online tracking information) on April 28th, nearly one full month ago is still missing?

I was heartened to finally get a response to an inquiry from OLPC and had every expectation that give the nature of the damaging articles I could author about my OLPC experience your organization would make every effort to avoid this consequence and would take steps to get me the computer that I had paid for in SHORT ORDER.

Frankly I am mystified that given the possibility that a fairly high profile member of the technology community was so frustrated and disappointed with his OLPC experience that he was verging on making a concerted effort to make the world aware of the slipshod treatment and virtual fraud that he’d experienced, that the people at OLPC would fail to act as if they gave a damn and get this particular computer shipped as if doing so actually mattered.

Apparently this kind of thing doesn’t really matter to OLPC. If it did someone would have shipped my computer and I would have it by now. You – if this really mattered to OLPC – would similarly have shown the least bit of diligence and instead of responding to my message and then doing nothing else would have followed up on the shipping request you allegedly made to be certain that the computer had actually shipped to the requested address and followed up again to make sure that it had actually arrived at said address.

Under the circumstances a person truly concerned about customer support and equally concerned about the organization they worked for would have likely written the customer once they had confirmed via tracking that the individual was satisfied with the computer and that they had received it with no further problems. At least that is how it would have been handled by any employee that worked for me or by me personally were I aware of the situation.

Instead here it is, nearly three weeks later and once again I am writing to the black hole of your “Support” email address. An email address that has on three of four occasions resulted in nothing. No response, no support, no solutions, nothing and on the sole instance where I was actually graced with a reply (as a result of a threat no less), that reply was apparently nothing more than lip service since the promised solution has, like everything else so far with OLPC, proven to be nothing more than false promises and wishful thinking.

Well. I have had it. I have given more than six months of opportunities to OLPC and I have been stymied in my efforts to get that which I purchased. You can now begin reading about my OLPC experience at http://owstarr.com but please understand, just because I am now exposing your fraud to the world, that does not absolve you of the responsibility to send me what I purchased. In fact, unless the money that I paid is refunded or the product is received within the next five days I will not only continue to write about this issue and expose this fraud for all to see, I will also endeavor to file complaints with the consumer protection agency, the better business bureau, and will find out about fraud statues.

I also now have a great deal of skepticism as to whether the second laptop that was purchased as part of this ill fated transaction was actually delivered to Cambodia where it was supposed to go. Thus, I now require proof that the machine that I paid for did in fact get manufactured and delivered to my other requested location. It is your burden to figure out how to find a means of providing acceptable proof that this has in fact taken place.

I am out of patience with OLPC. You have had the benefit of my funds for more than six months. I showed faith in your efforts by sending you those funds and I exhibited patience and continued faith by waiting for months and months and months in spite of being ignored multiple times and then (apparently) lied to when I finally did get a reply.

Well, it is time for you to reap the fruits of your efforts. I am one pissed off blogger – I have been treated as poorly as can be by OLPC and I am not going to take it any more. Don’t be surprised if the contents of this letter begins to make the rounds of the Internet as I intend to publish it along with my complaints in numerous places.

I have given you all more than enough chances and the fact that I am still without the machine that I purchased so long ago is not only inacceptable, the fact that I have been ignored and now lied to in my multiple efforts to get this situation corrected merits retribution..

You all have made your bed; now it’s time you lie in it.

I expect to receive my computer by no later than Wednesday of next week. That’s the 28th of May and it will be one full month since the tracking information confirms that whatever you sent me last time (I no longer believe it was actually a computer) was returned to your facility.

Failure to have the machine delivered to my address below by this date will result in a heavy escalation of my efforts to exact retribution for the lies, deceit and fraud that you have perpetrated upon me.

Please note that after the 28th of May I will no longer accept any deliveries from OLPC and will simply return the goods unopened and expand upon my efforts to collect both a refund for the payment I have made and damages for the time, energy and opportunity cost as a result of OLPC’s negligence.

Sincerely,

Oliver Starr

http://owstarr.com

On 5/8/08 5:59 PM, “Support” <service@laptopgiving.org> wrote:

Dear Oliver,

I apologize for the delay in responding to your inquiry. I have submitted your new shipping information (that you provided below) to our shipping department so that they can make the appropriate changes. Your laptop will be reshipped as soon as possible. Again, my apologies got out to you for the delay in response.

C. Harris
OLPC
Donor Service

—– Original Message —–
From: Oliver Starr <mailto:oliver@mobilestarr.com>
To: OLPC Customer Care <mailto:service@laptopgiving.org>
Cc: Oliver Starr <mailto:oliver@mobilestarr.com>
Sent: Thursday, May 08, 2008 6:41 AM
Subject: Re: Coming soon: Your XO laptop
To Whom it May Concern,

This will be the fourth letter that I have written since paying over $400 before the first of this year, I have yet to receive even a single response and I am nearly at the point where I begin blogging about this aggressively. You should note that I am the founder of MobileCrunch, a techcrunch network blog, as well as the Editor of GTDtimes.com. In addition, I have my own blog, StarrTrek that also has a substantial readership. Your consistent lack of response is about to generate a significant amount of truly negative press. This can easily be avoided if someone will simply respond to my inquiry.

The content of my most recent prior message is below.

The issue is that the original order took so long to ship that I was no longer receiving mail at the address where the laptop was sent. I tracked the shipment and as you can see below, it has been returned to Libertyville IL on April 28th.

Here is the original transaction detail:

Item Price:  $399.00 USD
Total Shipping:  $24.95 USD
Total:  $423.95 USD
Order Description:  G1G1 program donation
Buyer:  Avastar, Incorporated

What I would like is to have the laptop delivered to the correct address:

Oliver Starr/Avastar Incorporated
660 Rose Ave #1
Venice, CA 90291

I need this delivered right away. I have been waiting for over five months for this laptop and it is an understatement to say that I am very disappointed by the performance of OLPC in terms of keeping me informed about the status of my order (2 emails in five months) and then the subsequent failure to respond to my inquires in any way whatsoever, when, due to the ridiculous delays in shipping me the laptop it was refused.

This will be the second time that I am writing concerning this issue and requesting contact and that the unit be reshipped to the correct address and there is simply no excuse why someone wouldn’t respond to this email to confirm that the updated information had been received and that the laptop would be shipped immediately to the correct address.

I really hope that this more strongly worded message is sufficient to spur someone to action. I have already gone from an individual that was behind your efforts 100% to a frustrated and disappointed person awaiting a terribly late delivery, to an unenthusiastic person sorry that he’d spent his money on something that was apparently not being made at all to now, someone so upset and angry that he’s ready to start writing articles about your organization that will no doubt be of great embarrassment and probably be actually damaging to your efforts.

The sad thing is that all someone had to do was reply to my inquires. In the two letters prior to my computer being delivered to the wrong address I was writing with some suggestions about how to mollify the folks like me that were waiting months for machines that weren’t coming yet no one had the courtesy to reply to those either.

I don’t know what sort of an operation is being run over there but someone should be embarrassed by how dreadful your customer support is. I can’t remember ever dealing with any as bad as the OLPC foundation is and that’s saying something.

At any rate, if someone would please do your company a favor and look into my inquiry and get back to me – I’ll give you a few days but I expect a response by early next week or I will start making my very bad experience very public.

Sincerely,

Oliver Starr

Hi. My order, referenced below was refused by my mailbox and was returned to Libertyville IL and signed for by J Roper
as below:

Could someone please contact me to arrange re-delivery to the correct address? This address is
Oliver Starr
660 Rose Ave #1
Venice, CA 90291

My phone number is 310-779-9816. I have been waiting for this laptop since before Christmas and have planned to send it to an orphanage in Thailand. The problem is that the person that can deliver it to this orphanage is leaving the US within the next week and if I miss this window it will be very difficult to get the computer to the intended recipients. Please help me make this happen.

Thanks,

Oliver Starr

About Oliver

Oliver Starr is a well known blogger, speaker and serial entrepreneur. His current blogging is focused on mobile technology and applications, green (eco-protective) technologies, and entrepreneurs and their companies. He is currently engaged as the Community Evangelist for Pearltrees.com, a new social curation tool. Oliver was also a professional cyclist and six time member of the US National Cycling Team.
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4 Responses to Is OLPC a Fraud?

  1. Pingback: Eric

  2. Bryce says:

    Three months since you basically accused the OLPC project of pocketing money intended for the third world. Since then, you’ve failed to continue your indignant little war against them, the one you promised you would unleash if you didn’t get satisfaction.

    We can assume, therefore, that you received the laptop. If you’re a decent person, you at least owe your readers a retraction of a few of your more inflammatory remarks.

    [this message is being typed on an XO-1, which I received two weeks before Christmas 2007. Boo. Ya.]

    Sincerely,

    Unapolagetic OLPC fanboy

  3. admin says:

    Bryce,

    I did finally receive my OLPC laptop. I never did get a response answering my questions as to why it took more than six months from the date of payment for me to get my machine, nor did I ever get any satisfactory response from anyone at OLPC that would enable me to verify that the other machine that I paid for actually managed to get to Cambodia where I had requested that it be sent so I have no assurance whatsoever that OLPC actually upheld their full end of the agreement.

    Since that time plenty of other damning news has come out of the OLPC camp with high-level resignations from people as significant as the companies CTO with the reason being stated that Negroponte had decided to go to an MS Windows version of the OS and basically become a for-profit computer manufacturer. Those people who joined the company based upon Negroponte’s original vision were understandably disenchanted – this was not what they had signed up for and for those of us that sent in money not because we wanted another computer but because we wanted to do some good in the world feel cheated and ripped off that the program that we bought into is being discontinued in favor of one that most of us could care less about.

    So far from feeling badly about what I wrote I feel that OLPC has been completely disingenuous and maybe even from the very beginning. My experience is just one disappointment among the many that the company has caused, not the least of which is the disappointment of the many thousands of kids and teachers that were hoping to get machines that now won’t be able to afford them with the new added MSFT Tax they’d have to pay.

    Oliver

  4. Goatview says:

    The second coming of the G1G1 is upon us and there is an ad currently running on NPR that states verbatim:

    “One Laptop Per Child: Children in developing countries learn, create and connect to the world with solar-powered laptops. At Laptop dot org”

    This is so closed to an outright lie that it made me suspicious all over again. I don’t know if OLPC is a scam, but I’ll bet that they are exaggerating the success of the program in remote places just like they are exaggerating the solar factor (if a community’s power comes from solar, then the XO could be said to be running on solar–but the same could be said if the power is generated by a hydroelectric dam or a nuclear facility…ALL the XO’s have to plug into an outlet).

    Pisses me off. Just because you are a non-profit, you aren’t entitlede to lie in ads on NPR.

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