Apple

Before buying a used iPhone or iPad, check Activation Lock

Apple has released a new tool to check if iPhones or iPads are "locked" by the company's Activation Lock tool.

Apple activation

Earlier this year, California passed a new law that required a "kill switch" be installed in all smartphones manufactured after July 2015. Apple's Activation Lock, introduced last year in iOS 7, appears to already comply with the law, hopefully reducing street crime due to muggings and robberies for smartphones.

Activation Lock requires that a user's Apple ID and password be entered before a device can be erased and reactivated, signed out of iCloud, or to disable Find My iPhone, which is Apple's service to locate, lock, and remotely erase lost devices.

The service is credited with significant drops in iPhone-related robberies in San Francisco, London, and New York City.

There is a downside to Activation Lock, however — many buyers and sellers of legally obtained iPhones and iPads are getting caught in the Activation Lock dragnet.

Because many customers aren't aware of Activation Lock or how it works, many iPhones and iPads are changing hands without Activation Lock being removed from the devices. This means that the buyers can't use the devices that they've purchased and will likely ask the seller for a refund.

It gets even more problematic when Apple devices are sold over the internet, via sites like eBay or online message boards. The buyer doesn't realize that Activation Lock is still on until after payment has been made and the device is shipped across the country. At this point, the only way to unlock Activation Lock is to either ship the phone back to the seller (costing someone money) or for the seller to give the buyer his or her Apple ID and password (which isn't ideal).

To prevent all of this, Apple has (a year late, really) created a website at icloud.com/activationlock/, where potential buyers and sellers of devices can check if Activation Lock is turned on a particular iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

"Before you purchase an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch from somebody else, make sure that Find My iPhone Activation Lock is turned off and the device is ready for you to use."

The user enters the device's IMEI identification number or its hardware serial number, and then page says whether the device is locked or not. It takes just minutes and could save a lot of headache for users.

There's also a new feature with Find My iPhone on the iCloud website. Users can remove Activation Lock remotely by following these steps:

  1. Sign into their iCloud account for Find My iPhone
  2. Click All Devices to open a list of devices linked to the account, then select the device to by removed (it should show a gray dot or the word "Offline" next to the device name)
  3. Click "Remove from Account"

To remove Activation Lock that has already been erased and is at the initial set up screen, users will be prompted for the previous owner's Apple ID and password. If the previous owner is with you, great! Just enter their password and proceed normally. Otherwise, follow the iCloud website instructions above.

Finally, if the the device is not erased and the previous owner is with you, go to Settings | General | Reset | Erase All Content and Settings. They'll be asked for their Apple ID and password, and then Activation Lock will be removed, and the device will be erased. Otherwise, follow the iCloud.com removal instructions above. Apple's Support website has these instructions as well.

Have you sold or purchased an Apple device and ran into difficulties concerning Activation Lock? Share your experience and how you solved the problem in the discussion thread below.


About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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