All Your Bases Are Belong to Us
January 18, 2019 6:27 AM   Subscribe

StupidFilter: I sent my laptop off to the recycler with ALL my information still on it. I also have everything uploaded to the cloud (I think). Is there any way for me to keep my cloud information but wipe my computer from afar?

This is a 2014/2015 MacBook Pro laptop. It's already off in the mail to the recycling company, Phobio, which will be inspecting it and then sending me back an Apple giftcard in return.

I shrugged off sending it in with my info still on it because my profile is password protected, and because I figured Phobio would just wipe it once they got it anyway in the process of refurbishing it (or whatever else they're planning to do).

However, I just got an email this morning reminding me to send it in and telling me: "Before you ship us your device, please remove all personal content and settings." Now I am low-key freaking out.

Can I wipe everything from my computer from afar? Will everything stay safely backed up on my iCloud?
posted by rue72 to Technology (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If your macbook pro is set up with Find My Mac you can use that service to remotely wipe it. I don't know whether you can remotely back the thing up first.

If I were in your shoes, though, I'd be on the phone right now to the recycling company telling them you sent the laptop in error and asking them to ship it back to you unopened.
posted by gauche at 6:30 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

I contacted Apple support, and they said that there is no way to wipe the computer remotely. Their recommendation was to change all my passwords (in the process of doing that now) and to contact the recycling company, Phobios. I have emailed Phobios, but their timeline for getting back to me is "within two business days." Of course, we're going into a holiday weekend, so...
posted by rue72 at 6:59 AM on January 18

Don't freak out. That notice sounds like utterly boilerplate CYA on the part of Phobios. It's not a notice that they're going to intentionally rifle through your personal life if you don't stop them, or anything. Wiping your laptop would absolutely have been best practice in this situation, but I guarantee you it's going to get wiped during the recycling process anyway and absent some kind of bad actor at the company nobody is going to go through your stuff because the legal liability and bad PR they'd be exposing themselves to if they got caught doing that would be pretty huge.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:03 AM on January 18 [5 favorites]

A reputable company will wipe the data. The reminder works in two ways. One, it reminds you that you're going to need to put that data elsewhere, or you will lose it. Two, it's a healthy reminder of what you're concerned about. There are occasionally examples of tech workers running through all the pictures on someone's phone when doing an upgrade, though, so companies do actually want you to send in your devices blank.

An example

So it happens. But it is not usual, and for a company specializing in recycling, probably very low chance of misbehaviour.
posted by jgreco at 7:15 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

Notice that the story jgreco links to is currently national news. I guarantee that every single person at Phobios (and every other computer recycling company) will be aware of it, and will not want to be at the focus of a story like that themselves. If anything, the presence of this story, which is in the news cycle right now and will probably continue to be front-of-mind for computer recyclers for at least a couple months, means that they are going to be extra scrupulous about not peeking at your data. Having this kind of story break on them is the Nightmare Scenario for companies in this industry.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:30 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

Thank you for the reassurance!

Phobio echos what you're saying. They just replied to me via email and said, "Once your device is delivered, it will take up to 48 hours for us to get your device scanned in. After that, it goes through the inspection process. During the inspection, our inspectors will erase your operating system and reinstall it as part of the inspection process. During that time, all of your information will get erased from you hard drive. Rest assured that before you device is resold that all data will be erased."

I think that once I finish changing my passwords tonight, I should be OK. It would have been smarter to wipe my data beforehand, but I don't think that real damage is going to be done. Jeez louise.
posted by rue72 at 10:20 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

An additional link I meant to include. One of our regional papers reported on a Verizon employee who ended up in jail over this kind of thing.
posted by jgreco at 7:29 PM on January 18

This is one of the reasons I use FileVault. When I have a drive failing I can return it without worrying about it.
posted by bongo_x at 2:19 PM on January 19

« Older Me, I disconnect from you   |   Engineer Edition: Improving Personal Relationship... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments