A MacBook Security Chip Is Giving the Secondhand Computer Market Hell

    Macbook Pros and Airs from 2018 to 2020, as well as 2020 iMacs, contain the T2 chip.

    Macbook Pros and Airs from 2018 to 2020, as well as 2020 iMacs, contain the T2 chip.
    Image: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

    Digital recyclers are having a hard time breaking into secondhand Macbooks that have retailed for as much $3,000. The problem? The laptops won’t let anyone other than the owner wipe its data, so now these perfectly good computers are being sold for scrap.

    Vice says that the problem lies in the Macbook’s T2 security chip, which was unveiled back in 2018, and the security features of the chip include encrypting stored data and biometric data from TouchID. The trouble is that refurbishers can’t factory reset a laptop with the T2 chip for a new user unless the original has allowed the refurbisher to log in, due to the chip’s Activation Lock. Instead, these laptops, which can be worth thousands of dollars, get sold for scrap parts.

    “As I predicted years ago, Activation Locked T2 MacBooks are flooding into recyclers (15 of these are 2020 M1!) Recyclers willing to violate the R2 cert sell to uncertified barbarians like me who use them for parts, but most just scrap due to liability paranoia,” tweeted John Bumstead, a refurbisher.

    The T2 chip was designed to help prevent theft, since it couldn’t easily be bypassed for factory reseting, but now the secondhand market has been caught in the crossfire. Vice reports that the original owners of these computers are usually schools or companies that have a bulk contract with Apple for tech. Refurbishers would have to obtain the login information for each laptop in order to factory reset them for resale, but Bumstead said that previous owners are rarely responsive.

    “Previous owners do not return phone calls, and large corporations that dump 3000 machines assume they have been destroyed, so it is critical we have a solution that does not depend on the previous owner approving,” Bumstead told Vice.

    The T2 chip is contained inside several Macbook models and some iMacs, according to Apple. In an ideal world, users would factory reset their computers before they are sent to a refurbisher, but instead, Bumstead and his colleagues are forced to accept reduced profits.

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