Apple’s efforts to protect a user’s data are a major selling point for customers. If your MacBook is stolen, it’s extremely difficult for the thief to bypass the laptop’s security measures and access the data as long as you’ve taken advantage of the tools at your disposal to lock down your machine. However, those same security measures can render a Mac useless in a legitimate sale on the second-hand market.
A report by Vice highlights the frustrations of an independent computer repair specialist and refurbisher, John Bumstead, who tweeted about the “millions” of MacBooks that have been “condemned…to death” because of Apple’s Activation Lock. Activation Lock associates a device with an Apple ID, and is automatically turned on when Find My Mac is activated within the Apple ID settings on your Mac. With Activation Lock active, the Apple ID username and password have to be entered to gain access to the Mac, even if it has been erased.
Bumstead told Vice that Apple’s security is “formidable” and has become practically impossible to jailbreak or bypass on Apple’s M-series Macs. The T2 security chip that Apple introduced on Intel Macs in 2018 is now integrated into the M1 and M2 system on a chip and if it’s not properly deactivated, it’s causing Macs that are less than two years old to be scrapped and stripped for parts.
Activation Lock has long been a problem for third-party resellers, as well as individuals involved in a legitimate transaction–Macworld’s Mac 911 help columnist often receives emails asking about Activation Lock. As Bumstead points out, if Find My Mac hasn’t been disabled, devices can’t be used even though they are in good working condition. Users can turn off Find My Mac in the Apple ID settings of the Mac, but that also shuts off the ability to locate it. Activation Lock can’t be toggled on or off separately.
Bumstead wants Apple to be more active in helping people who are legitimately trying to access a device. He suggests that a user could make a request to access a machine and then Apple could “explore its records” and “query the original owner,” and if everything checks out “and the original owner does not protest within 30 days,” the restrictions can be lifted so the device can be used again.
Apple has a way online to request that Activation Lock be turned off, but it involves performing a check of the device’s serial number against the registered owner, which means that the second owner needs to be able to work with the original owner to get the request fulfilled. In some instances, that’s difficult or impossible to do.
It’s important that if a device is being sold second-hand, the Apple ID must be disassociated from it. If you’re selling a device, you can’t just wipe out the drive and reinstall the operating system, you also need to disable Find My Mac and Activation Lock. If you’re buying a second-hand device, confirm with the seller that Activation Lock has been disabled and the product has been disassociated with the owner’s Apple ID. Also, confirm that you can contact the seller for their Apple ID info if Activation Lock kicks in and that you can return a device you can’t get access to.
Apple encourages owners of older devices to participate in the company’s trade-in program. Eligible devices earn credit towards a purchase, while ineligible devices are recycled for free. Apple can presumably unlock Macs that are inaccessible due to Activation Lock.