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Shocking report says 60,000 donated iPhones useless because this feature wasn’t turned off

If you are planning on giving away your old iPhone to a friend, recycling it, donating one to charity, or selling it to someone else, there’s one important step that you shouldn’t skip.

Not only will this step protect all the personal data you have saved on the device, but it also prepares it for reuse. See, if you don’t turn this feature off, it will render your iPhone virtually useless for everyone else (which is a good thing if your phone was lost or stolen).

However, one research group is saying that this feature is actually creating environmental problems. If you’re planning on selling or donating your old iPhone, you should definitely read on and see how you can help.

This safety feature is sending iPhones to the landfill

A new report by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) revealed that the Wireless Alliance, an electronics recycling facility based in Colorado, received over 66,000 Find My iPhone and iCloud activation-locked iPhones since 2015.

While Find My iPhone and iCloud activation locks are important features that deter thieves from reselling stolen iPhones, CoPIRG wrote that the features are having negative impacts on our environment and the used phone marketplace.

Why? Well, because of the activation locks, which render the iPhones unusable. The group said that the phones, which still work by the way, are scrapped for parts instead. In fact, the report said that 1 in 4 iPhones the facility received in 2018 had activation locks.

“While the activation lock is intended to deter thieves by making stolen phones unusable and therefore not worth stealing in the first place, it has also resulted in making a surprisingly high number of donated or handed-down phones unusable, having negative impacts on our environment and the used phone marketplace,” CoPIRG wrote.

The report also claims that in the U.S. alone, 416,000 phones are discarded every day and that plenty of them end up in landfills. Obviously, this practice has detrimental effects on the environment.

“Every phone that can be reused should be reused,” CoPIRG advised. “If a phone is not being reused, it can end up in the landfill, where it contributes to the fastest growing waste stream in the world.”

Being environmentally proactive is something that everyone should be mindful of but the other big question is this – how can they tell that these donated iPhones were legitimate? The thing is, the iPhone’s activation lock feature is just doing what it’s supposed to do. It prevents thieves and scammers from re-activating stolen and lost iPhones.

What is iCloud activation locking?

Back in 2013, Apple introduced Find My iPhone’s iCloud locking feature to iPhones and iPads. This means that only one iCloud account can be associated with an iPhone or iPad and in order to sell it (or give it to someone else), that account has to be completely removed and unlinked from the gadget.

This also means that resetting and reactivating the iCloud-locked iPhone or iPad will require the password of the linked iCloud account. Without this, the gadget can’t be set up as new.

This is why iPhones that are iCloud-locked are almost completely useless and are often sold just for parts.

Note: If you see a Craigslist or eBay listing for a cheap iCloud-locked (also, IMEI blocked) iPhone or iPad, stay away from it! Not only is it useless, it could be stolen or lost merchandise.

What can be done to minimize these problems?

To address these problems, CoPIRG wants phone manufacturers and recyclers to work hand-in-hand to verify that donated phones are not stolen so activation locks can be disabled.

For example, the group wants recyclers to have extensive data security certifications so they can check stolen and lost iPhones themselves by running their identification numbers through national databases.

The group also wants a consumer-facing verification system, where owners of activation-locked iPhones are sent a notification by Apple to verify they are indeed donating their iPhone. If the consumer agrees, the phone will be immediately unlocked.

These proposals may have good intentions but they sure do open a bunch of bigger problems, don’t they?

As we’ve seen all too often, data breaches and stolen identities can be used to compromise Apple accounts and having a remote verification system to disable activation locks could give cybercriminals and thieves yet another loophole to activate stolen iPhones.




Instead of relying on a third-party verification system that has the potential to be breached and hacked, I think the responsibility of disabling an iPhone’s activation lock should still remain solely on the owner, don’t you agree? The key is consumer awareness and education, not another third-party method that has a big potential for abuse.

Before you donate it, here’s how to reset your iPhone and remove the iCloud activation lock

Find My iPhone and the activation lock are must-have security features for iPhones, so you should always keep them on to help you protect and recover your device if it is lost or stolen.

However, if you’re planning on selling, recycling or donating your iPhone, wiping it is an important step that you shouldn’t skip. Not only will it protect your data, it will remove the activation lock, too. Here’s how you do it:

Important: Back up all your iPhone’s data first before attempting a reset.

1. Open Settings >> General

2. Now tap Reset


3. Select “Erase All Content and Settings

4. Tap “Erase iPhone.” Then, tap it again to confirm.

5. If asked for your passcode, enter it now.

6. Now, enter your Apple ID and password to unlink it from your iCloud account. This will turn off the Activation lock and it will remove it from your “Find my iPhone” devices, as well.

7. Confirm by tapping “Erase” to begin the wiping process

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