There are many occasions on which you need to sign out of iCloud on a device. Maybe you’re returning it to an employer, sending it to Apple or another company for trade-in credit, handing it down to a family member, selling it, or consigning a failing unit to the fires of…recycling.
If you used iCloud on that device, Apple has tied a lot of your identity to the device, including synced data and making services available on your hardware. iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Watches with a Secure Enclave may also have Activation Lock enabled if you have Find My turned on. (Apple builds Secure Enclave into a large range of its hardware. This includes all iPhones starting with the iPhone 5s, all Intel Macs with a T1 or T2 Security Chip, and all M1 Apple silicon Macs. You can see a more comprehensive list here.)
You can easily sign out from any device, but take care with the next step:
In iOS and iPadOS, go to Settings > account name and tap Sign Out. This signs out any Watch associated with an iPhone, too.
In macOS 10.14 Mojave and earlier, open the iCloud preference pane and click Sign Out.
In macOS 10.15 Big Sur and later, open the Apple ID preference pane, click Overview, and click Sign Out.
On an Apple TV, go to Settings > Accounts > iCloud and select Sign Out.
After selecting Sign Out on all devices except an Apple TV, you’ll be prompted about whether you want to save local copies of synced data. Apple provides a full list of potentially downloaded data types, like photos and notes. You can choose for each whether to save or delete.
If you opt to not save the information on the device, your data remains on iCloud.com as well as on any other Apple hardware you own logged into the same iCloud account, although each device can be set to sync a different set of iCloud services.
There’s one exception to that rule. iCloud Keychain employs device-based end-to-end encryption across any iPhone, iPad, or Mac for which you’ve enabled iCloud Keychain. If you sign out of iCloud on a device, it can retain a local copy of the last synced version. However, if you sign out from all your devices or all but one, there’s no copy retained on iCloud.com: when there aren’t two or more devices using iCloud Keychain, this secure data isn’t synced across iCloud.
Apple has tied so many services that you may rely on to iCloud, it’s worthwhile reviewing its list of what you can’t access on a phone, tablet, or computer after signing out, too. That includes Apple Pay, Continuity, and Voice Memos.
If you later sign back into iCloud from the same device, your operating system will offer to merge data or replace it. Once again, choose wisely: iCloud tracks data fairly carefully, so your newest versions of each contact, calendar entry, photo, and other data should be retained in a merge. But if you’ve made extensive changes on a logged-out device to items that could be synced, there’s a potential some might be overwritten.
This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Chiara.
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