Activation Lock on Macs Is Going to Make Them Difficult to Refurbish or Recycle

Appe's T2 processor

With macOS Catalina, Apple has brought the Activation Lock feature from iPhones to Macs featuring a T2 chip. Activation Lock is primarily an anti-theft feature that requires one to sign in to the device with their Apple ID after formatting it. If not, the device will keep asking for your Apple ID and would be rendered unusable.

This only happens if one does not end up formatting or resetting their device properly. On iPhones, it is recommended that one disables the Find My feature before resetting it. This ensures that Activation Lock is not triggered and the phone can then be passed on to your friends, family, or sold to someone. The feature is so good that iPhone thefts actually reduced after it was introduced.

As iFixit notes, Apple has now brought the same Activation Lock feature to its Macs featuring a T2 chip. That basically means almost every Mac sold by Apple right now has Activation Lock barring the iMac lineup. On paper, the Activation Lock feature coming to Mac sounds like a good thing. Imagine if your MacBook gets stolen, you can rest assured knowing that the thief will not be able to use it. And with the new offline tracking feature of Find My app in macOS Catalina, you might just get your MacBook back.

However, the problem is that most users are not aware of how to reset their Apple device properly and these locked Macs are eventually going to make their way to refurbished stores where they cannot be recycled or refurbished and will be rendered useless.

“People don’t realize that if you don’t properly reset your device, that phone is effectively bricked once you send it to me,” Schindler explains. “They’re just not thinking through the steps, or don’t connect the fact that [Find My iPhone] is a permanent, neverending lock on the phone. They think, ‘Oh, well, I turned the phone off, Find My iPhone must be turned off too.’ They don’t associate it with bricking the phone.”

Older Macs also had a feature similar to Activation Lock, but it could be bypassed using special tools. However, on Macs with a T2 security chip, that’s simply not possible. Any kind of hardware tinkering on a Mac with a T2 chip activates a hardware lock that can only be reset by an Apple-authorized repair software.

While Activation Lock on Macs is great from a security viewpoint, it does not bode well from a recycling or refurbish point of view. Peter Schindler, owner of the Colorado-based The Wireless Alliance — an electronics recycling and refurbishing shop — says that people don’t steal phones to drop them off to a recycling center. Apple should offer authorized recycling and refurbished stores an option to bypass Activation Lock on donated devices which have not been reported lost or stolen. This will ensure that such devices are passed on to people who cannot afford them instead of being shredded.

Are you happy that Apple has added Activation Lock to its Macs? Do you think the company should offer authorized recycling and refurbished shops with the tools to bypass this lock?

[Via iFixit]