PSA | ‘Refurbished’ AirPods May Be Locked Down to Their Previous Owners

AirPods Earbuds Credit: Camilo Concha / Shutterstock
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Several retailers have discovered that the latest security features on Apple’s AirPods come with a pretty big downside.

Last year, Apple beefed up the Find My AirPods feature to bring AirTag-like features to its wireless earbuds. In addition to helping you locate your AirPods just about anywhere they happened to end up, it also paired your AirPods with your Apple ID to ensure that a would-be thief couldn’t simply disable the Find My feature.

It was a significant improvement on how Find My AirPods worked before. Previously, you could use the Find My app to make your AirPods emit a sound to help figure out where it was in a room, but this only worked if the AirPods were charged, out of the case, and within Bluetooth range.

Apple’s enhanced Find My AirPods feature gives you location tracking capabilities similar to what AirTags offer. Your AirPods can’t report their location directly over Wi-Fi or cellular, but nearby iPhones and iPads can pick up a stray set of AirPods and report them to Apple’s global Find My network.

Unfortunately, the pairing lock feature is wreaking havoc for retailers and refurbishers, who have found themselves stuck with thousands of useless earbuds where an original owner failed to unlink them from their Apple ID before returning them.

According to Insider, it’s also created problems for customers purchasing recycled or refurbished AirPods — and it’s an excellent cautionary tale for anybody who might be considering such a purchase.

Many folks discover that their refurbished AirPods are still tied to the previous owner. Some are even getting an “AirPod Mismatch” error, noting that each of the two AirPods is linked to a different Apple ID.

The earbuds of your AirPods are linked to a different Apple ID’s, possibly because one of the earbuds is mixed up with someone else’s AirPods. Learn how to solve this issue by going to the article online.Apple “AirPods Mismatch” warning.

The warning links to an Apple Support article that suggests either getting your AirPods “back from the person who might have it” or contacting Apple Support for a replacement.

In this case, however, it appears likely the AirPods are mismatched when being repackaged by the retailer, not realizing that the two AirPods are still linked to the Apple IDs of their original owners.

Fortunately for customers, at least some refurbishers are aware of the problem, which should at least prevent these locked-down AirPods from being resold. However, it’s not helping the companies that find themselves left with tens of thousands of AirPods that they have no way to get rid of.

For instance, Insider notes that goTRG, a company that handles returns for Walmart, has been forced to “stockpile more than 30,000 affected AirPods” in just a few weeks. A representative for the company also told Insider that “eight in 10 AirPods” that they encounter are affected by the problem.

This has forced goTRG, a refurbisher that handles returns for Walmart and other retailers, to stockpile more than 30,000 affected AirPods over the course of just a few weeks. David Malka, chief sales officer of goTRG, told Insider the issue affects about eight in 10 AirPods that come through the company’s six facilities. Insider

R2Cell, another company that deals in refurbished electronics for sites like Amazon and eBay, has stopped accepting AirPods entirely after it ran into the issue in December. R2Cell’s CEO, Sunny Mohammad, told Insider that AirPods “were already difficult to refurbish because they have many small and easily-damaged parts,” so dealing with this extra hurdle became the final straw.

While some are taking the cynical view that this is just Apple trying to shut down the secondary market and force people to buy new AirPods, it’s more about Apple protecting its devices against theft and the double-edged sword presented by any security system. After all, if a refurbisher can reset the pairing lock on a set of AirPods, so can a thief.

The bigger problem for refurbishers is that Apple is “notoriously uncommunicative and unfriendly” toward them. When they encounter a set of “locked” AirPods, which is more often than not, they get no help from Apple.

Of course, this is easily avoided by ensuring that owners unlink their AirPods from their iCloud account before they return or recycle the devices. However, it’s not surprising that most folks forget to do this, especially with AirPods.

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