It's all about security.
Apple customer service has declined a widow’s access to her late husband’s Apple ID account to ensure security, the CBC is reporting. According to the woman, 72-year-old Peggy Bush, her husband owned an iPad that she hardly used. She had wanted to download a card game app to the device, but couldn’t do so without the Apple ID password attached to her late husband’s account. She asked Apple for help and was told that the company needed proof to help her.
“I finally got someone who said, ‘You need a court order,'” Peggy Bush’s daughter Donna told CBC in an interview published on Monday. Donna Bush added that Apple’s customer service team had also asked for a court order in order to hand back access to the account. The only other option, the Bushes say, was to wipe the iPad clean and start anew—something they didn’t want to do.
Soon after the Bushes failed to get their desired response, they went to the CBC asking for help. It was only after the CBC reached out to Apple that the widow, whose husband died of lung cancer in August, was able to start moving towards regaining access to the Apple ID account.
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Not surprisingly, Peggy Bush was shocked by Apple’s response and its requests for her to obtain a death certificate and court order to retrieve a password, saying that she thought the whole issue has been “ridiculous” and “nonsense.” There are undoubtedly some who may agree that a widow should be able to easily gain access to the accounts owned by her late husband.
However, the issue brings to light a much bigger issue that Apple, along with countless other companies, have been forced to confront in the last several years: Privacy.
Security researchers often say that social engineering, or using information about a person with malicious intent, is one of the better ways to hack and obtain data. To protect against that, Apple AAPL , like other major technology giants, including Google GOOG and Microsoft MSFT , has instituted policies that protect user data. After all, while it may not be true in this case, it’s possible that Apple could be faced with a fake request for credentials from someone claiming to be a person’s surviving spouse. Without real proof, Apple has two options: Request that proof or hand over the credentials. If the person is lying, Apple has effectively handed over Apple ID access.
Given the threat posed by such attacks, the industry’s largest technology companies have instituted similar policies to safeguard a user’s credentials, even if the person has died. Gmail accounts, for example, may only be accessed by a close relative if proof is provided and requirements established by Google are met. Rather than handle data access, Facebook’s FB policy is to turn the deceased person’s page into a memorial. Twitter TWTR , like Apple, requests a death certificate in order for it to hand over an archive of a deceased person’s tweets.
Whatever the case, the companies are trying to address trouble they are increasingly facing in the digital world: When someone dies, what happens to the data, and how can loved ones access it? As time goes on that question will become even more pertinent: A study last year from The Loop found that within the next 50 years, Facebook could have more deceased users than living users. Memorials, in other words, could become commonplace.
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For its part, Apple declined to comment on the CBC report. The CBC noted, however, that it’s currently working with the Bushes and Apple to rectify the situation without forcing the family to obtain a court order.