- Some used AirPods remain linked to the previous owner’s iCloud account even after a factory reset.
- The issue affects sales of refurbished AirPods returned by retailers, including Walmart.
- A refurbisher has stored more than 30,000 pairs of AirPods that should have already been resold.
An apparent security issue has stalled sales of thousands of recycled AirPods, according to device refurbishers and security experts who have come across the issue.
The issue has left some consumers warned that their refurbished AirPods still belong to the previous owner.
The affected units have the display name “AirPod Mismatch” rather than “New Owner’s Name AirPods” in Apple’s Find My app. When the new owner taps the AirPods icon in the app, a pop-up message says the gadgets are linked to another Apple ID and asks them to check if any of the headphones are “mixed with someone’s AirPods else”.
This forced goTRG, a refurbisher that handles returns for Walmart and other retailers, to stock more than 30,000 affected AirPods in just a few weeks. David Malka, head of sales at goTRG, told Insider the issue affects about eight out of 10 AirPods that pass through the company’s six installations.
“It’s a big concern,” Malka said. “We tested it in the facilities. We tested it every day.” Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Kyle Wiens, CEO of gadget repair website iFixit, this is the latest example of Apple building products that not only generally don’t have an end-of-life plan, but aren’t recyclable or easy to dispose of. to return to.
“It shows an underlying strategy at Apple of locking down and controlling every aspect of the experience, including syncing individual parts inside the phone or individual earbud to an account,” said he added.
Two refurbishers noticed the AirPods issue in December 2021 and March 2022, respectively. It is unclear whether this issue is related to a specific iOS update or an AirPods firmware update. This affects different models, including the latest Pro and Max versions, they said.
Malka began stocking impacted AirPods on March 8, the same day goTRG noticed the flaw in its facilities. A few days later, a goTRG customer who recently purchased 2,000 used AirPods told the company that their devices had the same defect. The customer said he had to return the AirPods.
R2Cell, which sells refurbished electronics on Amazon, eBay and other sites, stopped refurbishing and selling AirPods altogether after encountering the problem in December, according to CEO Sunny Mohammad. AirPods were already difficult to refurbish, he said, because they contain many small, easily damaged parts.
Malka said he notified Apple of the issue by emailing customer support, but received no response. He noted that Apple is notoriously uncommunicative and hostile towards recyclers and refurbishers.
Patrick Wardle, an independent Mac OS security researcher, told Insider that the problem might actually be something put in place by Apple on purpose. Without this obstacle, a set of stolen AirPods could be factory reset to make them immediately usable by the thief, or at least untraceable by the victim, he explained.
The main way to avoid this problem is for the original owner to remember to unlink their AirPods from their iCloud account before recycling the devices. Malka says most people forget to do this, and there’s no way for an independent refurbisher to remove a pair of AirPods from someone else’s iCloud account.
Malka believes that this task should not be imposed on users or renovators. “It’s like I’m saying to you, ‘hey, if you’re selling your car, you have to make sure you unplug that wire or someone can track you down,'” Malka said. “It does not make sense.”
If the affected AirPods are not factory reset, there is a different issue. New owners will see a pop-up after pairing with AirPods that says, “The owner of this item will be able to see its location. It then says they’re logging into something associated with someone else’s Apple ID, followed by a semi-redacted version of that person’s iCloud email address.
The previous owner does not receive a notification that the AirPods have been repaired. However, if that person goes to the Find My app, they’ll see the unique location of the AirPods at the time they were reactivated, according to refurbishers and security experts.
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