WD under pressure from class-action lawsuits in North America

The lawyers are circling over a perceived act of deliberately misleading information

There has been a story rumbling in the background over the past month that hard drive manufacturers Western Digital (WD), Toshiba and Seagate have been shipping storage using SMR technology –  a technique that increases drive capacity at the cost of speed for the end-user, while reducing their own manufacture costs.

The fact that these companies have not been mentioning this fact in their marketing and product specs has caused a bit of a storm as customers realized they may have been getting a product that was much slower than they could reasonably expect, all to seemingly save a little bit of cash for the manufacturer.

Not surprisingly the claws of the law are now reaching out to get them and two class-action lawsuits have been filed against WD, and presumably, we can expect similar against Seagate and Toshiba in the coming days.

Hattis & Lukacs, a class-action law-firm who have previously settled suits against Dell and McAfee have been busy sourcing plaintiffs for the suit.

Top Class Actions has also filed a similar action in Canada in a sign that this could be about to become a more serious problem for WD than just bad PR after seemingly being caught out.

SMR tech (Shingled Magnetic Recording)  overlaps tracks on the hard drives to increase capacity, but at the same time reduces costs. The trade-off for the customer is they then end up with a drive that is, in certain circumstances anywhere from 13 to 16 times slower.

Obviously, that doesn’t sound great in the PR specs so it seems to have been left out, leaving purchasers to end up with a product that could be viewed as hobbled to save costs compared to a more traditional CMR drive.

Western Digital has been busy sounding apologetic to mitigate the bad press and recently released a list of all drives that use the slower recording technology. A little late in the day perhaps but at least we all now know.

A comment from the company on their blog stated: “The past week has been eventful, to say the least. As a team, it was important that we listened carefully and understood your feedback about our WD Red NAS drives, specifically how we communicated which recording technologies are used. Your concerns were heard loud and clear. Thank you for letting us know how we can do better. We will update our marketing materials, as well as provide more information about SMR technology, including benchmarks and ideal use cases

The thing about all this is that some customers would not care about the slower speeds and would prefer a higher capacity drive at a good price, but by choosing, for whatever reason, not to disclose the issue has left them open to the courts. It also doesn’t look great that all three manufacturers haven’t chosen to share the information that they were using SMR technology.

This is unlikely to just go away even with WD now offering to replace drives for some customers, telling tech website Tom’s Hardware: “Western Digital reviews customer service requests on a case-by-case basis.  As with all such requests, including product replacement requests, the determination depends on a variety of factors, including the product type, the issue reported, and the applicable warranty.”

The whole affair is wildly complicated and it appears companies have been introducing the SMR technology into ranges that have previously been marketing as high-end. From the second the specification wasn’t added to the marketing however it was only ever going to end up in court with a bunch of angry customers feeling they had been misled. Let this be a lesson learned.

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Been around consoles and computers since his parents bought him a Mattel Intellivision. Spent over a decade as editor of popular print-based video games and computer magazines, including a market-leading PlayStation title. Has written tech content for GamePro, Official Australian Playstation Magazine, PlayStation Pro, Amiga Action, Mega Action, ST Action, GQ, Loaded, and the Daily Mirror. Twitter: @iampaulmcnally

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