Tenacious repair tech combats misinformation in Apple support forum

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Jessa Jones says the Apple Support Communities forum gives users erroneous information on recovering lost data.
Jessa Jones says the Apple Support Communities forum gives users erroneous information on recovering lost data.
Photo courtesy of Jessa Jones

When Jessa Jones’ twin daughters flushed her iPhone down the toilet, it set in motion an unlikely series of events that led to a feud with Apple.

First, she blew up her toilet to retrieve her phone. Then she taught herself how to fix iPhones. Ultimately, she ended up in a simmering battle in Cupertino’s official support forums.

Jones got so good at muscling tiny motherboards, she started a business called iPad Rehab. To help others interested in fixing their mobile devices, she launched a YouTube channel as a troubleshooting resource and amassed more than 100,000 followers.

But her troubleshooting often gets her in trouble on the Apple Support Communities forum, where admins regularly delete her comments and ban her from participating.

She creates new accounts nearly every day, she says, to pose questions or attempt to share technical information on the forum. The results are always the same. Viewer discretion is advised: You will find it hard not to get mad at Apple.

“It’s what I call getting ‘ma’ammed,'” Jones told Cult of Mac. Changing her voice, she explains it this way: “‘Um, ma’am, you can just get in line for a new phone or keep your mouth shut. There’s no talking here… You’re not allowed to ask a question.'”

Apple did not respond to Cult of Mac’s written requests for comment.

‘Welcome to Apple Support’

Cupertino lists a variety of options on its Apple Support Communities site. Problems with newer devices still under warranty can get the user a Genius Bar appointment at their nearest Apple Store or directions on how to mail the device into Apple for repair.

If an older device has issues, Apple provides information for an out-of-warranty upgrade plan, which provides a discount with a trade-in of the old device.

But what if iPhone or iPad owner has an older device that won’t turn on? Is it impossible to retrieve those treasured pictures?

The Apple Support Communities forum, which started in 2011, is a logical place to look for remedies to problems. From cracked screens and malfunctioning headphone jacks to blank screens or failing batteries, Apple device owners go there to seek unofficial guidance.

A few forum regulars typically prove quick to respond to users’ questions.

When a couple from Newfoundland in Canada returned from six months of traveling across Europe recently, they visited the forum after dropping their iPhone in a pond. The couple hoped someone in the forum would tell them how to recover pictures from a water-damaged phone.

They were told they were out of luck if they hadn’t backed up their data.

Lucky for them, a repair shop in Canada referred them to Jessa Jones.

Jessa Jones’ ‘forum war’

Jessa Jones claims she has posts deleted or her Apple support forum account suspended nearly every day
Jessa Jones claims her posts get deleted, or her support forum account gets suspended, nearly every day.
Screenshot: Jessa Jones/YouTube

If Jones is a nuisance to the unknown admin to the forum, she does not see herself as a troll, but as a knowledgable repair person disputing false information.

Jones holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology from Johns Hopkins University and uses an electron microscope for her work at iPad Rehab. Science conditioned her to question and reason analytically.

A spirit of self-reliance and her curiosity of whether she could fix her own devices eventually led to her opening a repair business, located just outside of Rochester, New York, in the small village of Honeoye Falls.

In 2012, Jones found herself panicking when her daughters dropped her iPhone in the toilet. From the internet, she learned how to remove the toilet from the floor. She took a sledgehammer to the toilet to retrieve the phone.

This, along with one of her sons stepping on her iPad and cracking the screen, led to several long nights at the dining room table, searching for DIY repair and micro soldering tutorials.

“I’m a scientist,” she says. “I developed a core proficiency working with things that are really small and I solve problems where there are no user manuals.”

In 2015, she opened her iPad Rehab store. Many customers saw her as the last hope to repair old electronics or retrieve data from damaged devices. Many with iPhones, she said, at first turned to the Apple support forum and came away believing nothing could be done if data has not been previously backed up.

If someone brought Jones a device under warranty, she sent the customer back to Apple. But most of what she sees are older models past the warranty period and does not to jeopardize customers’ ability to take advantage of Apple’s out-of-warranty upgrade program. (The Federal Trade Commission recently warned companies that invalidating warranties because of third-party repairs runs afoul of U.S. law).

The Apple support forum seemed like the only place Jones could ask about the company’s policy – and also dispel the notion that photos not backed up are irretrievable.

Apple has a finger on the delete key

Jessa Jones finds herself banned again from Apple Support Communities forum
Banned again.
Screenshot: Jessa Jones/YouTube

Jones says she takes pains to bring decorum to her posts and follow the forum’s terms of use. But on her YouTube channel, Jones will not suffer fools gladly. She is blunt and sarcastic when she talks about the Apple support forum, often devoting episodes to what led to her most recent delete and bounce.

Jones believes that when a post is deleted or an account banded it must come from an Apple-hired moderator. She is tenacious and when banned, comes back to the forum with under a new account.

The examples of her posts getting deleted are numerous and chronicled in entertaining detail.

One video recently showed her question in the forum and the response from the moderator.

Jones: “I understand this is a user-user forum, but I also know that it is Apple moderated, owned by Apple, and appears as Apple Support at the bottom of every online support article. My question is: under what circumstances will Apple accept a device that has third-party repair, including logic board repair, as an OUT OF WARRANTY swap, i.e. – I can still buy a discounted phone if I turn in my phone after third-party water damage data recover?

Apple: “We removed your post How do I get an answer from Apple on Apple policy? because it contained rants or complaints that weren’t constructive. We understand wanting to share experiences, but these forums are meant for technical questions that can be answered by the community.”

She hopes Apple is watching her videos.

“There’s a tone and culture that has been established and it’s important to push back,” she said. “Why should we care about this? We’re talking about an enormous corporation that you’re not allowed to question. That’s scary, especially when we all use these phones. We can’t imagine life without them.”

Jones is not the only technician fighting the forum war.

“They erase everything you write,” Tony Heupel, a repair tech with his own business in San Diego, told Cult of Mac. “I have spent countless days, hours, etc., on Apple forums helping other members [only] to just have my comments erased and some old man say Apple is the only option for salvation.”

“But they won’t help you,” said Heupel, who runs iTech iPhone & MacBook Repair. “[They] only will sell you a new device.”

The case of the Camera Roll

Jessa Jones guesses the Camera Roll can be recovered in about 95 percent of all water-damaged phones. She charges $300 only if she recovers the data for the customer.

She and others remain baffled why Apple would delete information useful to someone like the couple from Canada trying to salvage their pictures.

Jones was able to turn on the water-damaged iPhone long enough to recover the couple’s 8,000 pictures. And the moment she called them with the good news was captured by a television crew from the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

As part of the story, the CBC host went to the Apple forum to inquire about retrieving photos from a water-damaged phone. Like the couple, the forum told the journalist there was nothing he could do.