Apple takes your privacy seriously — even when you’re dead


The dream to give ever student in the L.A. schools district an iPad has officially come to an end. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
A tricky customer service problem.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Apple has made a big show of just how seriously it takes your privacy — but it’s not just criminals and government spying agencies whose hands it wants to keep off your devices.

According to a recent news story, Apple insisted that a Canadian widow sought a court order to retrieve her deceased husband’s password so that she could access his iPad — just to play a card game.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” 72-year-old Peggy Bush told CBC. “I could get the pensions, I could get benefits, I could get all kinds of things from the federal government and the other government. But from Apple, I couldn’t even get a silly password. It’s nonsense.”

While Bush knew the passcode to log-in on the iPad, she was unaware of the Apple ID passcode. This meant that when the card game stopped working and she had to reload it, she was unable to do so and wasn’t able to retrieve the password or reset the account, either. Although she did have the option of setting up a whole new Apple ID, this would have meant reinstalling everything.

Bush’s daughter tried to solve the problem by providing Apple with the serial number for the iPad, a notarized death certificate, and information about the will — which made clear that everything was left to Peggy.

“I finally got someone who said, ‘You need a court order,'” said daughter Donna. “I was just completely flummoxed. What do you mean a court order? I said that was ridiculous, because we’ve been able to transfer the title of the house, we’ve been able to transfer the car, all these things, just using a notarized death certificate and the will.”

Fortunately, there’s a happy ending to the story, because CBC’s Go Public department contacted Apple, which led to the company apologizing for what it termed a “misunderstanding” and agreeing to solve the problem — minus the court order.

Sure, there’s a lesson in this about customer service and the tricky line surrounding privacy, but it also underlines just how important it is that we make passcodes and the like available to family members, in case something serious happens.

Do you think Apple dealt with this in the right way? Leave your comments below.

Source: CBC


  • Tom__G

    Apple did exactly what is should have (except give in at the end). Privacy is always important, NO exceptions. The family should have just reset the iPad with a new Apple ID. Dead husband’s account is of no use to anyone now and should be terminated. The whole story sounds like crap and a social media hit piece against Apple’s steadfast stance on privacy and encryption.

    • Oscar

      If find my iPhone is turned on then she would need the password

    • tjwolf

      What if the husband had bought a bunch of games, movies, and books using that Apple ID? Your suggestion would be ridiculous in that case – why should she have to re-buy everything?

      • Richard Liu

        You’re talking about digital inheritance. Unfortunately almost every license agreement of downloaded-content you may find never mentioned that.
        Technically, you did not OWN the purchased digital contents, you’re just LICENSED to use them, under the terms of regulations of license agreement you approved ( never read these f**king agreements and pressed OK every time ? you’re not alone. )
        For most online services, these purchased content is licensed ONLY to the account owner. While it’s considered “fair use” if your family member use digital content purchased by you, the license itself does not pass on.
        The concept of digital asset is fairly new to human sociality and there is not enough precedents about such issues. Nobody knows what’s the “right” answer to it.

      • Jim Hat

        because she cannot prove she ever owned it in the first place. If the lady had a receipt for the iPad, Apple would have taken care of her.

      • Richard Liu

        Not exactly. If she can find the receipt, Apple can only help her WIPE OUT all the contents inside. The receipt is only a prove of ownership of that IPAD, not the ACCOUNT. She need to prove that she had inherited the account. That’s why Apple is asking for court order at first.

      • rdb787

        yes, and death certificate and last will and testament would do just that. Apple figured that when faced with a big legal bill to obtain a court order nost people would reset thwle account and buy the apps all over again.

      • Richard Liu

        Indeed. But apparently it’s not listed on Apple’s rulebook. Apple needs to update their service guidance of custom service department for the digital inheritance issue, though it’s not an easy task. Apple’s selling products all over the world, and people would have different concept of “inheritance” in different culture. Try search the Islamic law of inheritance and you’ll get the clue.

    • Jim Hat

      I don’t think Apple caved on allowing access to her husbands account. It says Apple agreed to solve the problem, not how it would be done. My guess is they will credit her iTunes account for the cost of her husbands content.

  • Physicson

    …the technology is with us now, give us a variable timed wipe date. If we don’t open it a month ( or other set time) a ten pass wipe erase occurs, leaving the device factory fresh.

    • skyfish

      We need to start building this into all our electronic gear for another, even more serious, reason.

      The coming Singularity.

      Without a “body” that “dies”, this superior intelligence will effectively be immortal… and what use would a super-intelligent immortal have with us mere human bags of mostly water?

      • DrMuggg

        A human is 70% water; basically we are nothing more than cucumbers with existential angst….

  • nelomh

    Im a web designer and photographer and all my work is on the web. Since I realized that something could happend to me I gave the password of my Flickr account to a very close friend as a heritage of mine. We never now what can happend but I believe that is not a bad idea to give it to someone who you trust.

  • nwcs

    I use 1Password to manage all my passwords including my Apple ID. My wife knows my master password so that avoids all these issues. It’s a sticky situation, especially with the ridiculous EULAs and software licensing terms and such. One day it’ll have to be truly solved. Apple went overboard but at the same time it’s hard not to see why it’s thorny.

  • Concerned about Privacy

    A password is initiated by the user to be the sole user of the information. Dead or alive the password should not be used by anyone else. Therefore, in no circumstances should apple release the private password. There may be information contained within that the deceased would not want anyone to see, including his wife. Isn’t everyone entitled to privacy even after one is gone?

  • eddieo

    I would not want anyone to have access to my account after my death.
    Private means private.

  • disqus_I8OsmmYY8q

    Apple can reset the password for the widow. But if Apple is able to retrieve the original (plain text) password used by her deceased husband, then there is a serious flaw with their security.

  • skyfish

    We need a new set of digital privacy rights… a 21st century 4th amendment.

    That includes:

    OWNERSHIP of our personally identifiable data, no matter where it resides.

    Full encryption rights with no access except via personal password.

    Expiration date certain for all digital data and devices.

  • Jim Hat

    This means the lady couldn’t verify a credit card, phone number, or security questions. She shouldn’t have access to that account.

    The article says Apple agreed to solve the problem, my guess is that Apple will NOT give access to her husbands account, rather, they will credit her iTunes account so she can re-download his apps for free.

  • Gaurav Pandey

    I think i will buy an iPhone and die peacefully :P

  • DrMuggg

    My wife died in cancer 1.5 years ago.
    The digital hell I’ve gone through…

    So, a tip – stop everything while your still alive. Or write down passwords in a safe place if you know
    you are dying.
    Everything from Endomondo, Google, down to local Pharmacy and shopping cards…
    So easy to end subscriptions if you have the pw, so many hours on phone, writing mail and fighting
    just to have acounts removed…

  • I had all the verification information for my late wife’s AppleID account, but for some reason, it wouldn’t reset the password. There was something blocking it.

    I wrote Tim Cook an email (because this worked with emailing Jobs, right?), and I got a response from someone that gave me some paperwork that I needed to have done. My lawyer was pretty amused at having to do a legal document for Apple to get access to the AppleID.

    After some wrangling, they allowed me to reset the password. I told them that all of her digital media now belonged to me as a consequence of the will. They gave it to me.

    She just didn’t call the right people.