Ex-Twitter Workers Puzzle Over Elon Musk’s Abandoned Laptops

Elon Musk’s Twitter needs every penny. With millions of dollars in allegedly unpaid rent and bills, plus $13 billion owed to lenders who financed his takeover, there is “still much work to do” if the company is to avoid bankruptcy, Musk said last month.

Twitter recently auctioned off an estimated $1.5 million of furniture and equipment from its San Francisco headquarters, down to trifles such as keyboards and USB dongles. But the company has left tens, or potentially hundreds, of thousands of dollars’ worth of shimmering assets to gather dust in former employees’ homes.

Some people laid off or fired by Musk are puzzling over why Twitter hasn’t bothered to collect their corporate laptops, the latest head scratcher in a takeover characterized by botched product launches, abrupt policy changes, and delayed paychecks.

Eric Frohnhoefer, a California software engineer fired in November after confronting Musk via tweet, says he has not heard a peep about returning his company-issued Apple MacBook Pro M1 Pro laptop from 2021 (8/10 WIRED Recommends). “It’s still sitting in a closet,” he says. Like the laptops of thousands of remote Twitter employees that Musk has terminated or let resign since early November, his was digitally locked, rendering it useless.

Refurbished versions of his model can still fetch around $1,000, and new ones retail for twice that. Frohnhoefer does not feel indebted to Musk and is in no rush to return the machine. “I’m happy letting it sit there and be a brick,” he says.

Two other ex-Tweeps say they are less relaxed about their custody of Musk’s expensive paperweights because they are among the workers still owed severance, and they fear it could lead to further delays to their compensation, or even legal problems down the line. On ex-employee chat groups, braver souls have discussed attempting to crack their laptop’s lock code or wipe and reset the device, one of those sources says.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Businesses typically want their devices back quickly from departing staff to protect proprietary data and save money, by cutting leases for the equipment or through reuse and resale. But there are exceptions. Snap and Airbnb confirmed that they allowed workers laid off during the pandemic to keep their corporate laptops.

Some former Twitter workers have told colleagues they sent gear back after reaching out to the company for prepaid shipping boxes. Others within the past few days received generic emails asking them to fill out a “Twitter Device Collection Survey,” multiple people say. But four out of five who spoke with WIRED had not received the email themselves and are still babysitting Musk’s property.

“I think at this point Twitter figured it would cost too much to try to take all these laptops back with nowhere to store them—they haven’t been paying rent in a while you know,” says Frank Meng, a machine-learning engineer in Canada laid off by Twitter in November. He found out only last week from one of the private group chats that returns might at last be happening.

The survey seen by WIRED describes badges, authentication tokens, corporate credit cards, company-issued cell phones, and laptop chargers as items that can be returned. However, monitors, keyboards, mice, display cables, and stands do not need to be collected, according to the form. What ex-workers should do with laptops is not made clear. 

The survey asks for an address where a shipping box for returnable items can be sent, but it also provides options to drop equipment at some Twitter offices. 

When WIRED wrote to a Twitter email address for equipment returns that was shared by an ex-worker, an unsigned response came back after about three hours linking to the form and saying that further instructions and a box would arrive within 30 days of submission. One laid-off worker says they’re not rushing to fill it out. “Elon can wait.”

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