Along with other large and small retailers, Apple stores were looted by opportunists during ongoing protests in the U.S. In response, Apple has closed all of its stores in the United States again. The stores recently reopened after closings related to the COVID 1
But looters who have brought stolen iPhones home, or people who buy these phones in person-to-person transactions, will be surprised: It appears that the stolen iPhones are not working and may even be tracked by Apple or government agencies. This could pose a challenge for regular customers who will buy used iPhones and repair shops in the coming weeks and months.
People with iPhones that were allegedly looted from Apple stores found that the phones were automatically disabled and had messages like the following (via Twitter) is displayed on the screen:
Please return to Apple Walnut Street. This device has been deactivated and is being tracked. The local authorities will be notified.
Some examples of this news have surfaced on Reddit and Twitter in the past day or two. However, we do not know how many iPhones were taken from Apple stores and put into circulation.
Apple has been known in the past to use special pictures from iOS on iPhones with demo units. These demo iPhones have a kind of kill switch that turns the phones off when they’re out of range of the store’s Wi-Fi network. So none of this is surprising. Apple also already offers FindMy to users, which can be used to track lost or stolen iPhones via the user’s iCloud account. There is no obvious reason why related tools and services from Apple itself could not be used.
Anti-theft is not Apple’s only focus in the event of unrest. Bloomberg received a memo from Apple CEO Tim Cook to employees detailing the company’s official response to the George Floyd murder and the protests in response to the murder. Cook wrote, among other things:
This painful past is still present today – not only in the form of violence, but also in everyday experience of deeply rooted discrimination. We see it in our criminal justice system, in the disproportionate number of diseases in the black and brown communities, in the inequalities in neighborhood services and in the education that our children receive. As our laws have changed, the reality is that their protection is still not universally applied.
Today, Apple is donating to a number of groups, including the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that works to combat racial injustice, end mass detention, and protect human rights for the most vulnerable in American society. For the month of June and in honor of June 19, we will also reconcile all employee donations for two employees through Benevity.
The New York Times reported that the area surrounding the protests last night was more peaceful than the previous night, with less looting. However, it is not known when Apple could reopen its stores.