When it comes to computers, phones and tablets, Apple has always tried to take a security lead, ensuring that your expensive hardware and precious data remains safe. It’s a lockdown that has been designed to thwart would-be thieves, but it has some inadvertent consequences. If users fail to disable those safeguards come the day the devices are given up for refurbishment or passed to a friend, the hardware is rendered useless, permanently locked. Many thousands of devices end up scrapped each and every month for the want of some simple steps at the time they’re given up.
Apple iPhone and iPad users have been warned in the past that before devices are refurbed, Apple’s “activation lock” needs to be disabled. The lock links a device to an Apple User ID and password—one is needed to remove the other. Now the same warning is being issued to owners of MacBooks as well. “With the release of macOS Catalina,” warns leading repair outfit iFixit, “a lot of otherwise usable Macs heading to shredders, too.”
Clearly, the lock in question is an anti-theft device, and a very powerful one at that. Apple prides itself on the security of its devices and its ecosystem, and this is seen as a critical defence against the surge of device thefts seen in recent years. But it has resulted in many thousands of otherwise perfectly functioning devices being scrapped every single month at recycling and refurbishing sites around the world.
The solution is simple. Follow Apple’s step-by-step process to wipe all data and settings from the device, as well as removing the activation locks and “find my” device features. That “find my” feature is not new to Macs, but it has relied on a different system isn the past that can be bypassed—albeit with unauthorised tools—when users forget to switch it off. “The T2 security chip, however,” warns iFixit, “makes it impossible to do anything on a Mac without the proper Apple ID credentials—It’s great for device security, but terrible for repair and refurbishment.”
Just as the repair industry has become painfully frustrated by Apple’s restrictions on unofficial repair channels, so the refurb industry is lobbying for bypass tools to unlock used devices if they’re shipped with locks in place. From Apple’s perspective, though, these tools have helped undermine device thefts. And bypass runs the risk of making it into the wrong hands. “If Apple doesn’t fix the problem, refurbishers may take action.”
Just as with the repair issue, the claim will be that Apple is preventing owners making use of their property. And where a device has been properly given to a refurb shop, the ownership has changed hands. Of course, for the owner who bought the device in the first place, they will likely be more concerned with the security when they own the device and load it with their data. This is a dilemma with no easy fix. It really is down to an owners to follow the right process before giving up their device.
In the meantime, though, “it’s only a matter of time before thousands upon thousands of perfectly working Macs are scrapped or shredded, for lack of an unknown password.” iFixit described the situation as “unnecessary chaos—wading through piles of locked devices.” Not only is this an expensive waste, but (in a sign of times) the refurbisher also complains it’s an “environmental nightmare.”