Former Twitter employees puzzle over Elon Musk’s abandoned laptops

11 months ago
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Elona Musk Twitter needs every penny. With millions of dollars supposedly unpaid rent and accountsplus $13 billion debt to creditors who financed its takeover, “there is still a lot of work to be done” if the company wants to avoid bankruptcy, Musk said last month.

Twitter recently auctioned off valued at $1.5 million furniture and equipment from the headquarters in San Francisco, down to such trifles as keyboards and USB keys. But the company left glittering assets worth tens, potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to gather dust in the homes of former employees.

Some people fired or fired by Musk wonder why Twitter didn’t bother to take their corporate laptops, the latest headache in a takeover characterized by failed product launches, sudden policy changes and delayed payrolls.

Eric Fronhofer, a California software engineer, was fired in November after confronting Musk via tweet, says he hasn’t heard anything about the return of his 2021 Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro laptop (8/10 WIRED recommended). “It’s still in the closet,” he says. Like the laptops of the thousands of remote Twitter employees that Musk has fired or retired since early November, his computer has been digitally locked, rendering it useless.

Restored versions of his model can still cost around $1,000, while new ones can cost twice as much. Fronhoefer does not feel indebted to Musk and is in no hurry to return the car. “I’m glad he sits there and stays a brick,” he says.

Two other former twips say they’re less comfortable keeping Musk’s expensive paperweights because they’re among the workers who are still owed severance pay, and they fear it could lead to further delays in their compensation or even legal issues in the future. In former employee chat groups, bolder souls discussed trying to crack their laptop’s lock code or wipe and reset the device, according to one of those sources.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Businesses typically want their devices to quickly return from departing employees to protect sensitive data and save money, either by reducing equipment rentals or by reusing and reselling. But there are exceptions. Snap and Airbnb have confirmed that they have allowed workers laid off during the pandemic to keep their corporate laptops.

Some ex-Twitter employees have told colleagues they sent the equipment back after contacting the company for prepaid mailboxes. Others have received standard emails over the past few days asking them to complete the “Twitter Device Collection Survey,” several people say. But four of the five who spoke to WIRED didn’t receive the email themselves and are still looking after Musk’s estate.

“I think at this point, Twitter decided it would be too expensive to try and take all these laptops when there’s nowhere to store them — they haven’t been paying rent for a long time,” says Frank Meng, a machine learning engineer. Canada fired Twitter in November. It was only last week that he learned from one of his private group chats that a comeback could finally happen.

In a survey published by WIRED, badges, authentication tokens, corporate credit cards, company-issued cell phones and laptop chargers are described as returnable items. However, monitors, keyboards, mice, display cables, and stands do not need to be assembled according to the shape. What former workers are supposed to do with laptops is not clear.

The survey asks for an address to which a return shipping box can be shipped, but also offers options for shipping equipment to select Twitter locations.

When WIRED emailed Twitter about returning the equipment shared by the former employee, an unsigned response arrived about three hours later with a link to the form and a message that further instructions and box would be received within 30 days of shipment. One fired worker says he is in no hurry to fill it. Elon can wait.

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