Apple bans users from their forum who post that data recovery on Apple devices is possible

AppleInsider recently published a editorial entitled “CBC again attacks Apple’s repair policies, but still lacks knowledge of how it really works,” which criticized CBC for its video coverage of Apple’s policies regarding data recovery by the third party repair industry. The CBC piece focused on Jessa Jones and her company iPad Rehab, which recovers data from water-damaged iPhones and iPads.

In the CBC video, Jessa Jones mentions that she was banned from the Apple forum for repeatedly posting that it is usually possible to recover the data from damaged iPhones and iPads. Her posts were deleted, whereas the posts saying that it was impossible and that companies that do data recovery are scams were not deleted. This practice on Apple’s official forum leads the public to believe that there is no way to get their data back from a damaged Apple device if they don’t own a backup.

Apple practice of promoting misinformation in this regard is part of its long-standing policy to make it difficult for 3rd party repair companies to service Apple devices, which Jessa Jones and Louis Rossmann have repeated documented in their YouTube videos. As evidence that Apple is deliberately misinforming the public, Jessa Jones posted a YouTube video that live-streamed her posts being deleted in real time on the Apple forum. Although I can’t get into the heads of Apple executives to know for sure, Apple’s policy of hindering 3rd party repair seems to be a blatant attempt to prevent competition to its own repair services, which are a profit center for the company.

The article itself largely missed the point by arguing that Apple can’t employ thousands of talented technicians like Rossmann and Jones, whose skills are exceptional. Rossmann and Jones are not arguing that Apple should employ thousands of people like them. Instead, they are arguing that Apple shouldn’t purposely hinder their efforts to repair Apple Devices and Apple shouldn’t misinform the public about the 3rd party repair industry.

The comments to the AppleInsider article hashed out the two crucial issues under debate, which boil down to whether it is Apple’s policy that its Genius Bar employees tell customers that data recovery is impossible and whether Apple employees are deleting the comments on their forum saying that data recovery is possible and banning users who repeatedly post those comments.

On the first question, Apple does occasionally refer its customers to DriveSavers, which is a third-party data recovery firm, but most customers report being being told that data recovery is impossible or not being informed that third party services exist to recover their data. We really can’t make a judgment about Apple’s policies without getting our hands on the internal documentation that Apple uses to train its Genius Bar employees, but the de facto reality is that most Apple customers are receiving the message that there is no way to recover the data on their damaged Apple devices if they don’t have a backup.

The second point of debate boils down to whether it is Apple employees who are deleting posts saying that third-party data recovery is possible or volunteers at the Apple forum. Comments in the AppleInsider article point to a link saying that only Apple employees can delete posts and ban users on the forum, but the AppleInsider editorial writer argues that he was an volunteer moderator on the Apple forums in 2010 and he had that power, so it was probably not an Apple employee who deleted Jones’s posts and banned her.

Frankly, I think that it is a pointless debate whether it was an Apple employee or not who deleted Jones’s posts, because the volunteer moderators are acting at the direction of Apple employees and this practice of deleting comments from the forum which mention 3rd party repair options has been going on for years. Years of deleted posts on this topic couldn’t have happened without Apple directing it to happen.

I felt compelled to post my own thoughts on the matter in the comments, which I’m reposting here in my blog:

In my opinion, Apple is engaging in unethical business practices when its employees delete posts and ban users from their forum who mention that it is possible to recover data from failed Apple devices. Jessa Jones has presented clear evidence that Apple is doing this, and this practice clearly harms owners of Apple devices who need a way to recover their data.

Since 2009, I have been the forum manager at ProcessMaker, which is web-based business process management software, so I know a bit about managing a public forum. I ban 2 or 3 users per day because we don’t allow spam and advertising on our forum, but I would never think to ban users if they give other people information on how to recover their data from ProcessMaker. In fact, I freely provide that information on our forums and I even convinced our company to create an unofficial wiki so that users can share that kind of information.

As a Thinkpad owner, I have spent some time on the Lenovo forum and I have never seen Lenovo delete posts about how to recover data from a failed machine on their forum. Apple has made a number of design choices such as creating custom pentalobe screws and designing the 2018 Macbook Pro so it impossible to recover the data from the SSD if the motherboard fails which are very detrimental to their customers. I really think that Apple customers need to push back or this kind of behavior will never change.

Some analysts calculate that Apple earns a 40% profit margin on their iPhones and the company as a whole has a 20% profit margin, so these actions are hardly necessary for Apple to stay in business.

The mobile device industry as a whole saddens me, because the mobile divisions of Sony, HTC and Motorola/Lenovo which generally respected the rights of their users haven´t made a profit in years and they keep shrinking. Now that Sony Mobile is cutting half of its employees, it is going to be very hard for me to find a phone with expandable memory which allows me to unlock the bootloader (without a manufacturer´s special code) and install a different operating system, such as LineageOS. The last tablets on the market which allowed the user to unlock the bootloader on his own and install LineageOS were the Pixel C and the Xperia Z4 which were released in 2015.

I have become so disgusted with the mobile device industry and the lack of user rights in the Apple/Google duopoly that I have decided to crowdfund the Purism Librem 5. I don´t want to spend the next couple years using a new operating system that has very few apps, limited functionality and poor hardware, but at this point I see no other good choice if I value my freedom and privacy.

I know that I’m speaking an alien language to most readers of AppleInsider. Most people who have decided to enthusiastically support Apple are frankly unconcerned with the issues that worry me, but I still hope to puncture their bubble and help them see how detrimental Apple has been to user rights. When a company with very questionable business practices like Apple sold 279.8 million devices last year, yet an ethical company like Purism struggles to sell more than a couple thousand devices per year, I despair at the brave new world based on tech that we are constructing. The bad actors in the tech industry are rewarded for their bad behavior, while the upstanding actors are marginalized and deemed irrelevant. None of this makes me hopeful about our future, which will be increasingly digital and determined by technology.

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