When you buy hard drives off Amazon, they offer you a super cheap data protection plan. But what does that really get you?
If you’ve ever bought a hard drive or a memory card off of Amazon, you’ve probably noticed the little checkboxes where you can tack on a data recovery plan for just a few bucks. I’ve seen this before and thought to myself: “Obvious scam.” It’s sort of like the protection plan that Best Buy tries to sell you whenever you buy a $30 HDMI cable in the store.
But then again, it’s Amazon, which has been pretty good to me so far from a customer service standpoint.
So, I thought I’d give it a whirl. I bought a $2 1-year data protection plan for a 16 GB USB drive from SanDisk. Then, I broke it and got to test out the service. Overall, I was pleased. But I’m not sure that I would recommend the extra investment. UPDATE: The folks at Seagate reached out to me after reading this blog post. I have some updates and clarifications near the end of the review.
I’ll tell you what happened and why I think that.
Amazon Data Recovery Plan Review – Rescue Data Recovery Services
Here’s how the Amazon Rescue Data Recovery Services work:
When you buy a hard drive, thumb drive, SD card, USB drive, or some other kind of storage device off Amazon, you’ll be prompted to add a data recovery service plan.
You can see the checkboxes right above the “Add to Cart” button. If you opt out, Amazon, in very pushy fashion, will show you a pop-up about it.
I imagine they sell a lot of these. You can read more about it, but the gist of it is that if your drive or disk fails, they’ll recover the data or refund the money you paid for the recovery plan itself. There’s free shipping to and from the lab and you can tack on a recovery service plan within 30 days of purchase.
So, who are the “they” who are recovering your data? It’s not Amazon.
The seller is listed as After Solutions, who is not a company either. It could be one of any third-party vendors who participate in the program. The bullets you see are just the rules of the program that Amazon has put together, and it’s not the actual agreement you’re entering into with the vendor. I imagine if a vendor behaves badly, Amazon drops them from the program…
As of the time of this writing, when you browse through the data recovery service plans, you see two sellers: FA Service Plans and Seagate. If you look at the actual product page and scroll down to the Warranty PDF, you can see that FA Service Plan is actually the Seagate Rescue Service Plan.
So, for now, it looks like Seagate is who provides your data recovery services.
After your checkout with Amazon, you’ll get an email from the service provider with your plan details.
And that’s it. The next step is to forget about the plan for about a year like I did. Then, right before it expires, put it through its paces.
Filing an Amazon Rescue Data Recovery Service Plan
A few months ago, I experienced a data loss scenario. I put a bunch of photos onto my thumb drive and then when I plugged it in, Windows 10 wouldn’t read it. It kept saying “You need to format the disk in drive D: before you can use it.” Uh oh.
I happen to know that what I was experiencing was a logical disk failure. Some of the data at the front of the drive had become corrupted, and so Windows couldn’t tell that the drive WAS properly formatted already. All my files were there, but they couldn’t be accessed. This could happen if you didn’t properly eject your drive, or if you accidentally did a quick format on it.
To open my claim, I called the number that was in my email from the service provider. From the warranty PDF:
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR EQUIPMENT REQUIRES SERVICE: Call the Administrator at 1-800-261-9859 and explain the problem. You will be instructed on the next steps for filing a claim under this Service Plan. For faster service, please have Your dated proof of purchase (sales receipts) and Service Plan number available when You place the call. You may be required to provide a copy of Your proof of purchase for Your Service Plan and Equipment (sales receipts) at time of service. NOTE: THIS SERVICE PLAN MAY PROVIDE NO COVERAGE IF YOU MAKE UNAUTHORIZED ATTEMPTS TO RETRIEVE THE DAMAGED OR LOST DATA (SEE “WHAT IS NOT COVERED” BELOW). Service will be provided during normal business hours only.
I called mid-morning on a weekday and the lines were full. I left a callback number and a Seagate rep called me back in a few minutes. They asked me to describe the problem I was having and then went through a few standard questions (for example: “Did you drop the drive?” “Is the disk involved in a court case?” “Is the drive encrypted?”)
After that, they got down to the details of how my claim would be fulfilled. They asked me if there were any priority files that I wanted to be recovered, in case they couldn’t all be recovered. I told them I was specifically looking for photos and videos.
Then, they gave me the option to have the files delivered to me via the cloud or a physical drive.
I opted for the physical drive. The cloud option might be nice if you’re in a hurry, but compared to having to download 16 GB worth of videos off a temporary link, I’d rather wait for the mail.
Within 48 hours of my call, I got a prepaid shipping label in my email. I slapped it onto a padded envelope, slipped my drive in and away it went via UPS.
Processing an Amazon Data Recovery Claim
In about 5 business days, I got an email saying that Seagate had received my drive. Then, things really picked up from there. In a span of just a few minutes, I got more emails saying that they had begun working on my drive. Then, an email saying they had successfully recovered my data. I think I made it too easy on them.
About two weeks later, I got another email saying they were shipping my data back to me. They also gave me a tracking number and a keyword, because the media they were shipping me was encrypted.
Getting My Files Back
After a few more days, I received the package from Seagate. It included my original media in an antistatic bag. It appeared to be practically untouched.
Then, I was shocked to find what seemed to be a new-in-the-box 4 TB hard drive. I was sure it was a mistake and contacted customer support about it. No one responded, so I finally got around to cracking it open and plugging it in. Turns out, it was my recovered files. I’m guessing this is a refurbished drive that they threw my data onto. Looking closer at the box, I can see that there are stickers with my case number on it. But hey, free 4 TB hard drive all the same…
The drive was BitLocker-protected. I had to enter the keyword from the email that Seagate sent me.
My files were in a folder called Root. All my files were there—100% successful recovery rate.
Is the Amazon Rescue Data Recovery Service Plan Worth It?
My experience with the Seagate data recovery plan was very positive. The phone rep was very helpful and courteous. The claims process was smooth. The recovery was quick, super successful, and I was kept in the loop the entire time. All told, it took about 2-3 weeks to get my data back. And I got a free (probably refurbished) 4 TB hard drive out of it.
But would I recommend buying it?
On the one hand, for my drive, it was only $2 for one year of protection. It can creep up to $10 or $15 for external hard disk drives and higher capacity drives. But it’s still a pittance compared to the price of the drive.
But I think it might not be totally worth it.
I’ll tell you why.
My data loss situation was very, very basic. I had a logical failure—that is, the hardware on my drive was fine, there was no physical damage, but the data on the disk was corrupted.
To be honest, this almost never happens in the real world anymore. You get all these warnings about properly ejecting your drive, but to tell you the truth, I am pretty careless sometimes and I have never had a spontaneous logical failure of a flash drive or external hard drive. In fact, it’s been hard for me to have a physical failure, too. I have an old hard disk drive from a laptop that I put in an enclosure and I put in my car to play MP3s. It stays out there in the coldest of winter weather and the hottest of summer weather. It turns on when I start the car and it turns off immediately when I turn the car off. At no point in its lifetime has it ever been ejected properly. And that thing still performs beautifully after three years of that kind of abuse.
The bottom line is that storage drives—especially USB drives and flash drives—are incredibly reliable these days. It’s very unlikely that your drive will fail, especially within the first one or two years.
And if you do see a failure like the one I had, you can probably recover your data on your own using free data recovery software, like Recuva, or professional software like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Pro.
You really only need professional help when there is physical damage to your drive.
And in that case, the $2 plan you bought through Amazon isn’t going to cover you. Remember how I said that they’d refund you your money if they couldn’t recover your data? If you have seriously messed up your drive, like dropped it in a coffee cup or run over it with a car, Seagate isn’t even going to attempt to recover your data. They only go after the lowest of low hanging fruit. As they should, for $2.
To recover data from a serious hard drive failure, you need professional data recovery equipment, a clean room, and fees easily reaching into the thousands.
Seagate has this stuff, of course.
But their lab recovery services are not included in your basic $2 plan from Amazon.
UPDATE: Okay, so here’s where I got things not quite 100% right. A rep from Seagate Recovery Service shot me an email and clarified the following things:
- Devices covered by the Rescue Data Recovery Plan do qualify for service in Seagate’s data recovery lab. This includes data recovery from physically damaged hard drives.
- The average cost of data recovery from a physically damaged HDD in the lab is about $650. If you paid for a Rescue plan upfront, you get this same level of service as part of your coverage.
So, that’s good news. It seems that Seagate does make an honest effort to recover your data, and that includes bringing it into their lab.
I had based my previous statements on some of the Amazon reviews of the service, which reported that the drives had been returned and the cost of the Rescue plan refunded after it was determined that the data was irrecoverable. I do still see a lot of those reviews saying that their data was irrecoverable and they simply got their money back. They are mixed in with a lot of positive reviews, and overall, the rating for the Rescue plan on Amazon is high.
I don’t have a good feel for what the success rate is for physically damaged drives. I’ve asked the company to provide some stats on how often physically-damaged drives are recovered under the plan. But the fact that a drive has been accidentally damaged or dropped doesn’t immediately disqualify it for service.
Bottom-line: Amazon Data Recovery Services Are Fantastic, but Not Worth It
Like I said, I had a great experience with my data recovery service plan. But in the real world, any data loss scenario you face is either easily remedied at home or will cost hundreds of dollars in a lab. Cases in between those extremes are pretty rare. Seagate says that even extreme cases are covered, but the probability that your data is irrecoverable after serious damage to your hard drive is high. And in that case, you’re out of luck.
From the fine print:
UNRECOVERABLE DATA: In some cases Your data may not be recoverable. In such instances, You will be entitled to reimbursement of the purchaseprice of this Service Plan; which may be in the form of a retail gift card, at Our sole discretion, and We shall then be discharged from any further obligations under this Service Plan (the “Unrecoverable Data Reimbursement”). The Unrecoverable Data Reimbursement shall NOT apply in instances where partial recovery of Your lost data was successful; there must be a complete loss and non-recovery of data from Your Equipment to be eligible
As one commenter pointed out below, the best recovery plan you can get is a robust and redundant backup system. If your precious photos and data only exist on one hard drive that’s susceptible to failure, then that’s a problem. The Amazon rescue plans are guaranteed or your money back, but getting your $9.99 back isn’t much solace if your data is gone.
What are your thoughts? Do you pay for data protection coverage? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments.