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Why Tens of Thousands of Perfectly Good, Donated iPhones Are Shredded Every Year

Saturday April 13, 2019. 05:30 AM , from Slashdot/Apple
An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Tens of thousands of perfectly usable iPhones are scrapped each year by electronics recyclers because of the iPhone's 'activation lock,' according to a new analysis paper published Thursday. Earlier this year, we published a lengthy feature about the iPhone's activation lock (also called iCloud lock informally), an anti-theft feature that prevents new accounts from logging into iOS without the original user's iCloud password. This means that stolen phones can't be used by the person who stole it without the original owner's iCloud password (this lock can also be remotely enabled using Find My iPhone.) The feature makes the iPhone a less valuable theft target, but it has had unintended consequences, as well. iCloud lock has led to the proliferation of an underground community of hackers who use phishing and other techniques to steal iCloud passwords from the original owner and unlock phones. It's also impacted the iPhone repair, refurbishing, and recycling industry, because phones that are legitimately obtained often still have iCloud enabled, making that phone useless except for parts.

Between 2015 and 2018, the Wireless Alliance, the recycling company in question, collected roughly 6 million cell phones in donation boxes it set up around the country. Of those, 333,519 of them were iPhones deemed by the company to be 'reusable.' And of those, 33,000 of them were iCloud locked and had to be stripped for parts and scrap metal. Last year, a quarter of all reusable iPhones it collected were activation locked. Allison Conwell, a coauthor of the CoPIRG report, told me in a phone call that the Wireless Alliance's findings show that many people donate their devices intending for them to be reused, but they're scrapped instead. In her paper, Conwell suggests that Apple should work with certified recyclers to unlock phones that have been legitimately donated (a survey of random devices conducted by the Wireless Alliance found that more than 90 percent of them had not been reported lost or stolen.) The paper suggests that Apple could either unlock phones that have not been reported lost or stolen for 30 days, or affirmatively ask users whether they had donated their previous phone and unlock it that way.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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