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Apple’s Activation Lock sends iPhones to the scrap heap instead of refurbishers

Apple’s Activation Lock, a security feature that deters thieves from stealing iPhones and iPads, is also responsible for limiting the number of devices that are refurbished, instead sending them to the shredders.

Activation Lock, launched several years ago with the iOS 7, blocks other people from using iPhones that have been lost or stolen. The feature, which automatically turns on when the owner activates the Find My app, requires the owner’s Apple ID and password in order to gain access to the device. Without the log-in credentials, the iPhone is rendered useless, preventing thieves looking to sell off the device to make a quick buck.

Unfortunately, Activation Lock is also stopping old iPhones from falling into the hands of people who are willing to purchase refurbished units.

“We receive [4,000 to 6,000] locked iPhones per month,” Peter Schindler, the founder and owner of Colorado-based electronics recycler and refurbisher The Wireless Alliance, told iFixit. Due to the Activation Lock not being properly deactivated, the iPhones are “parted out or scrapped,” instead of being refurbished and returned to the market as perfectly functioning devices.

For an iPhone to break free of the Activation Lock, its owner needs to sign out of iCloud and choose the Erase All Content and Settings option under the device’s Reset menu. If iPhone owners do not go through this process before letting go of the device, they are effectively giving away bricks.

The Wireless Alliance is just one of many recyclers and refurbishers in the world. Given the fact that it alone receives thousands of iPhones with Activation Lock still in place, it’s likely just a fraction of the electronic waste generated around the globe due to a lack of education about deactivating the feature before disposing of a device. Unfortunately, Macs will soon join that mound of e-waste, as MacOS Catalina introduces the Activation Lock to the computers.

To create more refurbished iPhones for customers to use, and to help prevent further pollution, Schindler suggest that Apple should allow certified recyclers and refurbishers to bypass the Activation Lock for iPhones that were not reported as lost or stolen, which makes up about 99% of the devices that his facility receives. As we wait for Apple to push forward a solution, the best way to address the issue is to educate iPhone owners regarding the need to eventually deactivate the security feature.

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