Apple Called ‘Very Cold’ After Refusing To Unlock Dead Woman’s iPad

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Any technology maker — let alone one the size of Apple — is going to have various moral predicaments to deal with.

Recently Apple was accused of showing an “utter lack of understanding and discretion” after refusing to unlock a dead woman’s iPad for her two grieving sons.

When Andrea Grant, a 59-year-old woman, passed away due to cancer earlier this year, she left her sons Josh and Patrick as the co-executors of her will and estate.

The brothers claim that their mother used her iPad regularly, but failed to tell her sons her Apple ID password. When the brothers tried to restore factory settings on the device, they were told by Apple that they needed “written permission from Mum.”

When they informed Apple that their mother was dead, Apple asked for a copy of her death certificate, will, and a letter from their solicitor — alongside a court order to unlock the iPad.

In a blog reporting the experience, one son noted that:

“I have always been a fan of Apple but this incident has changed my opinion of them completely. Their utter lack of understanding and discretion in a time of great personal sadness has been astonishing. For a company that sells itself on the idea we are all part of one big Apple family, they have been very cold.”

In February, Apple updated its iCloud Free Account terms and conditions to warn: “You agree that your Account is non-transferable and that any rights to your Apple ID or Content within your Account terminate upon your death.”

Is Apple being too harsh in this case — or are these necessary security measures that any company looking to protect its users should take?

Let us know your thoughts in the “comments” box below.

  • http://www.sacredpipe.org/ Turtle Heart

    Everyone should be outraged at this and tell Apple to change this absurd policy. It is to bad the article does not have a link to an Apple office so we can protest this nonsense. The tech media, many of you may not know, must always go along with Apple or have Apple terminate access by their reporters and staff. This fits in with the emptiness that is Mr Cook. All of us are going to pass away and no one is doing anything to assure that our various digital accounts are available to our loved ones after we are gone. This is a moment of shame for Apple and anyone who wants to be able to pass on their digital treasures to their loved ones needs to pay attention here. What a disgraceful episode.

    • plaztik

      So, should Apple (or any other company) just unlock a device that is private, without any proof that the person in question is actually dead? Is it so hard to provide the proper documentation?

      The only apparent grief Apple brought them is that “they now have an unusable iPad”. They are not complaining about not being able to retrieve photos, or other types of data that would be important to them or their mother. They are just angry they now have an iPad they can’t use.

      One thing is a company being inflexible in providing help to the costumer. In this case Apple asked for legal documents that would help to prevent fraud.
      What if they’re mother wasn’t dead and had important documents they were trying to access? What if their mother WAS dead, but had a will and did not leave them the iPad or the contents of it?

      The same way you can’t go into a bank and just state “My mother/father/wife/etc” is dead, I want access to they’re account, without providing documentation to prove that you should be granted access.

      This was neither a disgraceful episode by Apple nor an attempt to retrieve “digital treasures” by Mrs Grant’s sons. So stop the trollish attitude and conspiracy theories about “the tech media”, and try to understand how legal procedures work. This is not the case of Company X doesn’t help costumer, this is a case of Company X defends THE costumer. It might seem cold, but it is necessary, and actually is a good thing.

      • Andrew

        THANK YOU. Gosh some people who comment on here really don’t get it.

        I recognize that Apple is probably trying to stay out of a law-suit waiting to happen. One iPad, two sons, unknown content or paid apps music etc? Apple does not want to get pulled into a suit if any minor thing goes awry. Besides, if they unlock the private device for this case against their policy, what about others who make the same claims? I think they could be nicer and explain to them a little more sympathetically… but i think they are being smart.

      • Phillip Woon

        What if I have porn on my iPad I don’t want anyone to see if I die? :)

    • zeekfizz

      Wrong. She kept her password from them. Apple is doing it right.

      • Karrasa

        But apparently made it clear in her will that she intended the hardware to be transferred to their ownership. So whilst I would understand Apple wanting to charge a fee for unlocking (I don’t see how it could be their obligation to do it for free), I don’t quite understand their refusal. On the other hand, although the cost of the solicitor’s time might render it uneconomical, perhaps Apple should not be expected to take it upon themselves to authenticate a will and death certificate. I cannot see it becoming a regular scam but there might be some potential for ghoulish iDevice theft.

        Of course, it might be that we are not hearing the full story and she did indeed intent for it to be contents and all. But otherwise, on the basis of hardware only, I’m not sure I understand why the Apple ID expiring on death is even relevant.

      • lucascott

        We haven’t seen her will so we don’t know how clear it was.

        But given it says “factory settings” they got whatever content they might have wanted and were trying to clear it to use it themselves. Which Apple would attempt to help them with once they proved their claims and thus that it wasn’t stolen etc. Really not that outrageous. And as executors they have said proof as banks etc also require it.

      • Karrasa

        To be honest, rereading it, I’m kind of agreeing. I am not sure if the court order is going a bit far or not but it reads like they do not even consider the request for the death certificate to be reasonable.

      • Stuart Hobbs

        It wasn’t a sudden death, she had time to tell them if she wanted them to know

    • lucascott

      What a pile of trash. Apple doesn’t ban media that disagree with them. If they did this site would have been ground to dust ages ago. Your attempted hyperbole is regarding Gawker Media which made a felony level payment of stolen property then tried to extort a confirmation from Apple etc. They deserved to be sued but got off with the event and test product ban.

      As for your outrage, the story telling is likely exaggerated for hit whoring effect. Although that likely won’t stop you, you would probably be outraged no matter what. Even if the story was “Apple helped men steal iPad and Apple account from their own mother by claiming she was dead”

  • Michel Jordan

    I think it is the right thing to do. Maybe she had a reason, not to give away her personal data. She obviously did not die suddenly so she could have given the information to her children.

    • Chuck McGinley

      Really?? Really?? You think someone dying of cancer is worried about their iTunes/iCloud account?? Are you serious? Have you ever been involved with someone in hospice who is dying of cancer? I don’t know if you have, but I’m guessing you have not had the “pleasure” of that experience. I can assure you no one is thinking about iTunes/iCloud.

      Producing a death certificate and a letter from the probate is enough. A court order is over the top Apple.

    • lucascott

      They were trying to reset it to factory settings so either they had the data or there was a passcode and they didn’t care about the data and had it reset and are activation locked out.

  • MaJiNPooZ

    Seems like Apple handled this by the book. Apple shouldn’t be unlocking devices period.

    • Chuck McGinley

      Yes they should with proper documentation… See my reply above apologist..

      • MaJiNPooZ

        Actually a court order seems pretty standard for this type of request. Unsure of what your expectations are for this but it seems like Apple is handling it in a by the book. Your answer is placing emotions into it. They are a corporation and have an entire legal department that handles things sans emotions to protect the company.

      • Julian Gigola

        and they’re not saying that they won’t! They just want to make sure it’s not falling in the wrong hands

  • Jack Holland

    If I die tomorrow, that’s exactly how I’d want Apple to handle the matter.

    One minute people are up in arms about our personal information being insecure, the next they’re moaning because they can’t circumvent security because it suits them. How do Apple know the two Mr Grants are bona fide ? More importantly, how do they know Mrs Grant wished her family to have access to her personal information ? Apple can’t just take it on their say so, can they ?

    I sympathise with Josh & Grant, but if you take a step back and consider the legal ramifications, Apple are doing the right thing.

    • Chuck McGinley

      “If I die tomorrow, that’s exactly how I’d want Apple to handle the matter.”

      OK Jack. Then put it in your will. “No one gets access to my iTunes account or iPad.” Otherwise your belongings should be handled like all other assets. From what I understand it is different from State to State.

      Providing a valid death certificate and valid proof from the probate for the next of kin should be enough. PEOPLE!!!!! When you have cancer; worrying about your F&^%ing iTunes password is the last thing on your mind. I can assure you of that.

      • lucascott

        Apple asked for exactly what you state. The outrage is over them asking for it. How dare they not believe these two men about their mother being dead.

      • Chuck McGinley

        The article states they are seeking a court order. Excessive!!

      • Anthony

        There’s no need for him to put it into his will, since Apple seems to take care of the matter pretty well on their own.

      • Chuck McGinley

        Yes your porn collection will kept safely locked up after you leave this earth. You need not worry. A court order is excessive. Plain and simple. It’s a policy that needs amendment.

      • Anthony

        Locked up? My porn collection is already in the will. My kids will appreciate the amount of Sasha Grey videos I have saved up for them.

      • Ivan

        I agree with you in that she wasn’t worried about her iTunes password or her Apple ID. Which is why she could have cared less who got the iPad. “After mom craps out, who gets the iPad?” Nah, it would be less time consuming for them to just buy a new one. If I died, my wife would have all of our precious memories in a place that matters, not my iPad. They need to let it go.

        Secondly, if anyone could just tell Apple “Hey my mom died, unlock this iDevice”, then anyone would do it. The court order is a bit much, but everything else is fine by me.

      • Chuck McGinley

        No! A valid death certificate that is notarized should be enough. To require a court order is excessive. This policy needs amendment.

      • Chuck McGinley

        This is not about proof. A court order is excessive. A valid notarized death certificate and any proof as to the last will is proof enough. She was dying of cancer. I’ll place my entire month’s salary against yours, that she never thought about passing on her iPad in any will. It’s an asset. It passes to next of Kin. Proof of death is enough. Getting a court order is extreme.

        To those who say she did not want them to know her password. I say bollocks! I can personally guarantee that someone in hospice or at home dying of cancer only cares where the morphine drip is and in general is experiencing feelings of total loss and total fear of the unknown.
        While I thoroughly support Apple’s lock system. It needs some amendment. This is NOT the case for my macbook pro. IT’s worth more, can be easily repartitioned and reset for my daughter should I get run down by a truck.

      • Phil Heywood

        Do you think a court order is excessive? You haven’t made your feelings on the matter clear…

    • Julian Gigola

      exactly jack

  • Shy

    What an absolute joke. “They’re outraged in this time of grief.” So why on earth are they bothering with iPads and unlocking and restoring and whatnot? All Apple is doing is following the terms and conditions it has set for itself. To make an exception for them because they want a new iPad right now will mean everybody will be at their door conjuring up all sorts of excuses to get into apple devices. I’m sorry for their loss but they’re being ridiculous, no one gets special treatment.

  • Karrasa

    Why not just unlock and wipe? No transfer of Apple ID or related information, just the change of ownership of the hardware? It does seem a little harsh that they should have to jump through so many hoops and incur such expense (solicitors don;t work for free for a start), if it has clearly been left to this person in a will. By the time they are done, they probably might as well have just bought a new one.

    Edit:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/son-attacks-apple-after-it-refuses-to-unlock-his-late-mothers-ipad-9171660.html

    According to this article, they are looking to factory reset it so the contents of the device are not really the issue, it is merely a case of bypassing activation lock to facilitate a change of ownership, agreed by the original owner but with their inability to take the necessary steps for themselves.

    • jonathanober

      pretty sure if Find my iDevice was used on the iPad it’s locked and can’t be restored to factory settings without unlocking the device. This was like iOS 7 and up I think, maybe 6, don’t remember exactly.

  • Howard Mooneyham

    I don’t think this is outrageous at all.

    I understand that this person was in a very troubling position, but this is procedure. Anyone could have stolen this iPad and said they were her son. They need all of that verification only to protect her information, should anyone try to gain access to her account. How would the sons have felt if someone gained access to her iPad along with all of her personal and financial information?

    I figured everyone would be okay with security increase after the Wired incident in the summer of 2012.

  • Justin

    I agree with Apple. I don’t want someone stealing my iPad and walking into an Apple store saying they are my daughter/son and I died. It might be a pain but I’d rather have that safeguard in place.

  • digitaldumdum

    I don’t even believe this story. Anyway, at this point it sounds like the woman herself is colder than Apple.

    • jonathanober

      props for the funniness of this comment. :) In other news “Prop me up beside the jukebox when I die”

  • lucascott

    Apple has NOT refused to unlock the device etc. They merely require that these men present legally validated proof of the claim their mother has died. They are executors so they would have it. Just like they would have to have it for her banks accounts etc.

    Apple has to do this to protect themselves and customers from false claims.

  • TheRobotCow

    This is why people need to read the Terms and agreement. Why would they need to make an exception to this one case? How does Apple know that what they say is true? They are doing the right thing. Just because you make your story know to a blog doesn’t grant you special powers.

  • http://nl.linkedin.com/in/bovelett/ Anne-Mieke Bovelett

    I’d say: “Cut the moaning and just do as Apple asked…”

    Apple is right IMHO. Anyone can steal an iPad and say it belonged to their dead mother or father. And what about parents who have reason not to let their kids get their hands on confidential stuff on their tablet or phone, even after death?

    If Apple would NOT follow this particular policy I’d drop them like a hot potato. So yeah, they ask for proof and that is a good thing.

  • Alex Zimmerman

    If they are just trying to wipe it… why wouldn’t they just use DFU mode?

  • Hero9989

    She used it regularly and saw the need to password protect it. That means she doesn’t want people looking at it. It’d be wrong for apple to unlock it in my opinion. If I were to die, I wouldn’t want somebody snooping through my emails, text messages, apps. Apple is totally in the right here and these 2 sons should respect their mother’s privacy, dead or alive.

  • TJ

    We’re just one big happy Apple family right? Us, and the Chinese, Russians, don’t forget those Czechs, they can be deadly with a computer and a will to hack.

    Did it ever occur to anyone that if you never provided your password to someone else, that maybe you didn’t want them to have it or see your stuff? Apple is protecting her right to privacy. They have to verify whether you have the right to her privacy. It’s not cold, it’s the right thing to do. You need to state in your will who has that right. You just don’t get it because you share a genetic link. That’s why wills are made in the first place!

  • JuanGuapo

    Two Words: Identity Theft.

  • Daibidh

    Certainly a copy of the death certificate and will, accompanied with a letter from the estate lawyer is sufficient to establish inheritance. A court order would only be a final option. Something just doesn’t sound right. Perhaps some misunderstanding or missing detail?

    It looks like they attempted to reset the device and ran into trouble with iOS 7’s Activation Lock. I’m not understanding the appeal to sentiment here. Does her TV and VCR also elicit such sentimentality? I could understand wanting access to her photos etc. but doesn’t seem to be the case here. Have the lawyer send the appropriate documents and be done with it. No “outrage” or “protests” required.

  • Kr00

    I understand how heartless this may seem, but if Apple do unlock the device without legal proof of death, they open themselves up to a massive law suit. We all click agree when accepting terms and conditions, and if one of those conditions is that the account is not transferable, then legally they can’t transfer it. Perhaps the family could restore the device from her last backup and have it as a reminder of her life. This is also a wake up to leave some kind of hint to passwords for family to access after we are gone. The whole digital rights issue over personal accounts is still a very contentious one. As of today, we don’t own any content we buy, we just rent it. It is so with every technology company world wide.

    People using this in an attempt to attack Apple or any other company, should just take a cold shower and get real. This is how the world works. Harsh but true.

  • Beastly Baby

    But in the plus side: when my mother was in the later stages of Motor Neurone Disease, and unable to swallow or talk, the head of Apple Marketing in NZ was very sympathetic, and when there was no IPad stock in store at all, made one available to us. And my mother was then able to keep ‘talking’ to us using SpeakIt on the iPad until not long before she died.

  • Jason C Frazier

    To prevent fraud, I think Apple or any business should go through the normal process of verifying the claim. I think the court order is a bit much, but proving that someone has passed is reasonable. I think to assume she didn’t tell them the information because she wanted to keep it private is quite a leap. I think if you are dying of cancer you probably aren’t worried about making sure your iPad is accessible after you pass. However, I am sure there are some people who do not want their computer looked at by their family (for whatever reason) after they pass. To assume either side of the argument is correct is a bit much.

    I think Apple or any company, should have a set process in place for this kind of thing, that is staffed by people who can see the human side of issue. Maybe this makes it a bit “warmer” when loved ones need to go through this. If I knew my mom or loved one had a bunch of photos or videos about their life, then I would want to see that. If you are looking into legal statements in ToS, they aren’t meant to be caring, they are meant to be legal. They are cold by nature.

    I am sure Apple could have handled it better, but such is life. The one thing that gave me pause is that they tried to go back to Factory Settings, which I think also wipes the data off of the iPad. From that statement it appears that they just wanted to be able to use the iPad. Not saying that is what happened, but if it was, then that is something that needs to be taking into account in regards to the outrage.

  • Julian Gigola

    Why would they need the iPad so baad if they’re sad?

  • Leslie B

    This is exactly what banks and other secure institutions do. My son died two years ago, but the bank won’t release his funds to his heirs unless we go through probate, which would be quite costly.

    Apple is simply following the same rules everyone else does. I feel for the family, but that’s just the way the world works.

  • Spencer

    You know, I’m a big Apple fan, but this isn’t the right way to do things. I had a similar experience although it wasn’t nearly as bad as this one. It was only an itunes credit that I had bought for someone who passed – and I had their Apple ID, password, death certificate, and will. That still wasn’t enough to transfer the credit (which wasn’t worth a lot but it was the principle that bothered me). I was treated very poorly and had terrible customer service with no sympathy, also demanding a court order. If I had the extra piece this family is missing – the Apple ID and password – and they still wouldn’t transfer a credit that was totally immaterial to them – I bet they wouldn’t have unlocked the ipad for this poor family (granted the family would have been able to wipe the ipad and restart with Apple ID and password, but seems that apple would prevent that if they could). I can’t imagine this strict policy is in place for anything other than greed on apple’s part.

    • lucascott

      If they had had the Apple ID and password this whole thing would be moot. They could get passed the activation lock themselves. They don’t which is why they went to Apple.

      • Spencer

        Yep I already said that. Thanks for coming out.

  • Astrocnd

    I’m not sure why people are so outraged. The iPad is a link to much more than digital memories – it’s a link to financial and legal documents, and other personal docs and data (diary, for example). You can’t just walk into a law office or a bank if one of your parents die and demand access to all accounts and documents to do as you please. There is a legal process that has to take place. If this deceased individual was concerned with sharing her iPad upon her death, she wouldn’t have password protected it, given the password to a select few individuals, or backed up digital photos and documents to an open computer or other storage media.

    Bottom line – Apple did the right thing by following it’s documented legal agreements. They can’t make exceptions to this for some people, despite feeling bad for them. Not everyone would have pure intentions, as I’m sure these poor guys did.

    It’s unfortunate and upsetting for the children of the deceased, but don’t blame Apple. I for one don’t want anyone rooting through my iPad upon my death, and maybe this person didn’t either.

  • Stuart Hobbs

    I quite agree with apple. I have very personal information in my iCloud account and do not want it automatically given to someone on my death, I want it destroyed. Good on Apple for taking the moral high ground.

  • steveb9124

    But what about the reverse situation? I and my entire family utilize my iTunes account for tons of things — app purchases, music purchases, movie purchases, etc. If I die, according to the terms and conditions, *EVEN IF I LEAVE MY FAMILY MY PASSWORD* (which they already have) Apple will probably eventually find out and close the account. (It could be years later, yes, but still…) What if I don’t want this? What if I want to bequeath my account to my family?

    There should be an allowance for this. Apple shouldn’t be setting terms and conditions that prohibit this, especially when multiple people may rely on a single person’s account (in a legitimate sense). I don’t want my family having to re-purchase thousands of dollars worth of digital goods, and my iTunes Match account that has all our family music deleted, and so on…

    • lucascott

      If they have the password, how exactly is Apple going to find out. Especially since it is nothing to change the email address, billing address etc. Thus changing the account over to someone else

      • steveb9124

        It bothers me that my family might be freewheeling using an account they’re (legally speaking) not allowed to use. Apple will figure it out in 50 years, I assume, by which time lawyers will have gotten even smarter and will have thought of a better way to handle this. But can you imagine the fortune of value that will be in my iTunes account in 50 years?

        It’s just not a comforting feeling to know that, technically, as soon as I die, my family may not own all this.

        Apple’s not alone in this. Many services do the same thing.

  • Joptisz

    We had a similar experience when our son passed away suddenly at 39 leaving two young daughters of whom we missed out on growing up because we lived in different states but there were many photos on his Apple Iphone that we wanted to retrieve. Sprint was the carrier and the contract was only 1-2 months old. Sprint required a death certificate to cancel the contract which they did. When we took the phone back to Apple to unlock it to retrieve the photos they told us it was impossible that no Apple employee could unlock the phone no matter if I had the death cert or not. Apple told us that only Sprint could help us as they were the carrier. Sprint told us we could reactivate it with a new Sprint contract but we didn’t want to do that. So it was an outrage that they did not help us and I was a fan of Apple but have lost my trust in them.

    • lucascott

      “When we took the phone back to Apple to unlock it to retrieve the photos they told us it was impossible that no Apple employee could unlock the phone no matter if I had the death cert or not.”

      So it had a passcode lock. then yes this is correct. It’s a user setting which means that Apple has no database etc and there is no default code in place because that would leak out and render the whole thing pointless if there was a magic combo that works on all devices.

      As for your ‘Apple told us only Sprint could help’ bit, that sounds more like you wanted the phone SIM unlocked which yes only a carrier can do

  • ProformaArtista

    After my brother gave me an iPad 2, I updated the iOS and, when it required me to change my password –which I absolutely did not want to do — I entered something in frustration at being forced to do this, but then I forgot what I entered. Now it does not allow me to use it. Friggin’ sh•t.

    I believe that Apple demanded from me something unreasonable. I think that I may be in the same predicament.

  • DANNY K

    This is good security. They can make their own ID and use it.
    So in “a time of great personal sadness” they are so worried and busy with using her Apple ID account?! This must be a joke :D

  • Simon Goode

    I don’t have any problem with Apple’s position. I have all my accounts and passwords in the safe. Plan ahead folks. Those who fail to, will cause difficulty for their families. Kinda like backing your computer up regularly. You plug in a hard drive and turn on Time Machine. Less than 50% of people do it. Lame.

About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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