Until a few days ago if you wished to purchase a second-hand iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, you could head to iCloud.com and use Apple’s Activation Lock tool to ensure the potential device wasn’t locked to another user’s iCloud account. When it was first introduced in iOS 7 it initially led to drop in iPhone thefts. However, Apple has now removed the tool leaving users without an alternative.
It’s common practice for those buying a device off, say, eBay, to request the device’s serial number or IMEI. Potential buyers could then use the tool to make sure it’s not locked. If it is, it’s likely the device was stolen and you wouldn’t be able to use the device without the original owner’s Apple ID and password.
Activation Lock is enabled when a user turns on the Find My iPhone tool, which lets users track a lost of stolen phone via iCloud.com. Activation Lock can be turned off by requesting Find My iPhone forget the device via iCloud.com.
But back to the removal of the tool. Why might Apple do this if it helps users weed out potentially costly purchase mistakes? After all, if it’s locked to another user, that device is essentially a brick. One potential explanation is that Apple has recognized that the tool is being used by the exact opposite of the desired audience.
Last year, a number of brand new Apple devices were sold that were found to be locked directly out of the box. It’s possible the tool’s removal is linked to this. A potential reason that issue happened was because serial numbers were being reprogrammed on stolen devices to bypass Activation Lock. A stolen device’s number would be randomly assigned, and it’s possible those numbers were previously assigned to a new device still sat in an Apple Store somewhere.
Software exists that can reprogram these numbers. Of course, if the new number is also assigned to a completely different device assigned to another’s iCloud account, then it remains useless. Criminals would then use Apple’s Activation Lock tool to ensure a new serial number isn’t already assigned.
So, why can’t they simply keep trying until they find one that isn’t locked? Because the process also involves the soldering and resoldering of flash chips. The device could be long-destroyed before they find one.
Apple hasn’t provided comment on why they’ve removed the tool and it’s uncertain whether a replacement is planned. It’s a useful tool for prospective second-hand buyers, but at the end of the day, the crux of the issue is the tool was being used by those it was designed to foil.