Apple’s efforts to protect a user’s data are a major selling point for customers. If your MacBook is stolen, it is extremely difficult for the thief to bypass the laptop’s security measures and access the data as long as you have used the tools at your disposal to lock down your machine. However, those same security measures can render a Mac unusable in a legitimate sale on the used market.
A report from Vice highlights the frustrations of independent computer repair specialist and fixer-upper John Bumstead, who tweeted about the “millions” of MacBooks being “sentenced to death” because of Apple’s Activation Lock. Activation Lock links a device to an Apple ID, and that Apple ID username and password must be entered to access the Mac, even if it has been erased. It is automatically enabled when Find My Mac is activated in the Apple ID settings on your Mac.
Bumstead told Vice that Apple’s security is “formidable” and has become virtually impossible to jailbreak or circumvent 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 not properly deactivated will see Macs less than two years old being 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 column often receives emails asking questions about Activation Lock. As Bumstead points out, devices can’t be used if Find My Mac isn’t turned off, even if they’re in good working order. Users can turn off Find My Mac in their Mac’s Apple ID settings, but that also excludes the ability to locate it. Activation Lock cannot be turned on or off individually.
Bumstead wants Apple to become more active in helping people legitimately try to access a device. He suggests that a user could request access to a machine and then Apple could “examine its records” and “interrogate the original owner”, and if all is correct “and the original owner does not protest within 30 days”, the restrictions can be lifted so that the device can be used again.
Apple has an online way to turn off Activation Lock, but it involves checking the device’s serial number against the registered owner, meaning the second owner must be able to work with the original owner to get the request fulfilled. In some cases that is difficult or impossible to do.
It is important that if a device is sold second-hand, its Apple ID must be disconnected. If you’re selling a device, you can’t just wipe the drive and reinstall the operating system, you’ll also need to turn off Find My Mac and Activation Lock. If you’re purchasing a second-hand device, confirm with the seller that Activation Lock is turned off and that the product is unlinked from the owner’s Apple ID. Also confirm that you can contact the seller for their Apple ID information if Activation Lock is turned on and that you can return a device that you can’t access.
Apple encourages owners of older devices to participate in the company’s trade-in program. Eligible devices earn credit toward a purchase, while non-eligible devices are recycled for free. Apple can supposedly unlock Macs that are inaccessible due to Activation Lock.