The Activation Lock has been preventing thefts for many years. The stolen device cannot be resold or reused, as the device cannot be activated without the user’s iCloud account. Word of this has got around among thieves, which is why professional gangs of thieves are no longer keen on expensive Apple phones.
With the Mac there was previously no such option – only setting a firmware password makes continued use more difficult. But this can be circumvented (with some effort), so that stolen Macs are definitely prized stolen goods. But newer Macs with a T2 security chip can be sealed off just like iPhones – according to the current state of knowledge, bypassing is not possible.
Activation Lock: A problem for Recyclers
There are many companies around the world that specialize in the sale of used hardware. They buy equipment on a large scale from companies and private users in order to refurbish and sell them – a profitable business. Many of these companies give the customer a guarantee for a few months to a year.
Steven Edwards, the founder of VarHost gives insights into what the Activation Lock means for such companies and also for iOS devices.
Schindler says the company receives between 4,000 and 6,000 iPhones with Activation Lock every month – devices that could continue to be used without the Activation Lock. Without the associated user account, the only thing left to do is disassemble the iPhone and sell the usable parts or dispose of the device.
Apple does a bad job of educating customers and buyers
Everything starts with, according to Schindler, that the sellers are not aware of the activation lock. Apple is here in one hidden support article hints, but the sheer number of iPhones with Activation Lock per month suggests that almost no one is aware of the effects. Many customers would reset the device using iTunes and believe that they have prepared the iPhone for sale – but the Activation Lock is still active.
Now with the Mac too
With macOS Catalina and a Mac equipped with a T2 chip, the same mischief threatens: Many Macs will also end up at recyclers and cannot be unlocked – in many cases this is also electronic waste.
Schindler’s suggestion is as follows: Apple should allow selected companies to unlock devices after a few weeks – if the device has not been reported as stolen. In the case of stolen devices, unlocking should of course not work. But in this way, you can save many Apple products from the scrap box.
If an iPhone is locked but not reported as stolen after a while, the rate of devices that have been stolen is likely to be quite low, argues Schindler. In addition, thieves would rarely sell the devices to recyclers, but rather sell them to uninformed private customers via other platforms.
Of course, recyclers are not only concerned with the specific device; every device that cannot be sold is a financial loss. The usable spare parts are less valuable than a functional device – and dismantling the locked electronic items takes a lot of time.