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Start-up that scanned 800 miles of underground pipes and conduits in Cambridge sues former programmers it says stole and destroyed its data

From the two companies' slide decks

The engineers did change the colors on their slide on the left, company says.

A Boston-based startup that says it can revolutionize the way engineers can find out what's sitting underground before they begin large construction projects says it first has to dig itself out of the mess left by some programmers it had hired who allegedly not only stole the company's ideas and data but destroyed the information before they left to start a competing company.

Prezerv Technologies, on Oliver Street downtown, says it hired the programmers to build AI systems to quickly build accurate underground maps based on ground-penetrating radar. Civil engineers often use radar to figure out what pipes and other structures are buried under the land on which they want to put new bridges or roads, but current technologies for finding potential underground obstacles are slow and subject to interpretation. To train the software the programmers were building, Prezerv says it paid to have another company do some 800 miles worth of ground-penetrating radar scans of what lies beneath the streets in Cambridge.

But in a suit originally filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Prezerv, founded by Cambiz Raufi, says the three programmers not only absconded with the data and various business plans and contracts, but then went into the various repositories on which the company was storing its data and programming - including IBM and Google cloud servers, the Github open-source repository and a company Slack channel - to scrub the information so that they could get to market first with the competing solution they're now marketing.

In the suit, which the programmers had shifted to federal court this week, because they don't live in Massachusetts, Prezerv says the programmers did considerable damage, but that they were also pretty sloppy, which made it relatively easy to find proof of their misdeeds. In one case, they left data they thought they'd destroyed in the recycle bin of a laptop they eventually returned to the company. And many of their marketing and pitch-deck slides not only copy Prezerv images exactly, in some cases, they forgot to take the name "Prezerv" off them, the company alleges, adding some also reference a specific agreement the company had signed with an Italian road-construction company.

Prezerv is asking a judge to order the programmers to stop what they're doing, return all the purloined data and documents to Prezerve and to pay double or treble damages and attorney's and court fees.

Complete complaint (1.9M PDF).

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Comments

It shouldn't be possible to destroy a company's critical data and code. Why weren't there backups?

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i'm guessing the contracted company was in charge of the backups ?

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Basically, it looks like they were relying on cloud-based storage for these (Slack, Github, Google Drive) but the defendants were able to get access to those and turn off the data retention capabilities before deleting the files, and they weren't backing up to any other locations. It also doesn't help that in a couple cases they didn't notice that files had been deleted until well after the data retention for deleted file limits on those systems.

Which is probably a good lesson for us all: back up your important files to multiple locations and don't assume that stuff on Google Drive/Github/etc will be preserved forever!
(and also don't give full admin rights to people who don't need it)

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How much of the startup did these guys own? How much were they paid?

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where, assuming the info in the complaint is true, you have to wonder how the defendants thought they would get away with it? It's so brazenly over the top that you wonder if there's something else going on or if they just thought that the company owners were paying so little attention they'd never notice crucial files vanishing (and to be fair, it seems that in some cases they really didn't notice for months!).

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