Dear Lifehacker, With recent events such as the Lenovo Superfish malware problem, I was wondering if it is possible to return an item discovered to have unexpected features. If it turns out that my laptop was shipped with Superfish, is that grounds to return it? And could I return a Lenovo laptop that didn't have the problem based on the lack of trust? Thanks, Fishing
Let's get the obvious bit out of the way first: losing your trust in a company does not give you the right to demand a refund on products they manufacture. This is an entirely subjective opinion and such a policy would be very easy to abuse. The issue needs to be with the product or service; not the seller.
Under Australian Consumer Protection Law, a commercially sold product must be of acceptable quality for the asking price and fit for the purpose it was designed for. In addition, the product must match the seller's description as well as any samples shown. If there is a major problem with the product, you are legally entitled to ask for a replacement or refund.
As outlined on the ACCC website, a "major problem" constitutes one or more of the following:
- a problem that would have stopped someone from buying it if they’d known about it
- it is unsafe
- it is significantly different from the sample or description
- it doesn't do what the business said it would and can't easily be fixed
A computer that contains secret, potentially harmful software clearly ticks several of the above boxes. However, getting a refund could still be surprisingly tricky.
Unless Lenovo gave a specific guarantee that its laptop was adware-free, the product description technically wasn't misleading. Plus, as Lenovo pointed out during its initial defense of the Superfish install, users have the option of refusing the terms and conditions when setting up their laptop, which makes accountability a bit murkier.
Indeed, there has been a long history of companies weaseling out of their consumer obligations by burying all kinds of disclaimers in the T&Cs. Last year, a range of Kmart swimwear was found to essentially disintegrate when exposed to suntan lotion or heated pools. They also became completely see-through when wet. Despite these serious defects, Kmart wasn't obligated to give out refunds as these caveats were all mentioned on the product's label.
In short, if your laptop is otherwise working perfectly, be prepared to have a fight on your hands. On the upside, Superfish isn't too difficult to uninstall — click here for our guide on how to remove it. (Also be sure to check for other malware while you're at it.)
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