There has been a lot of buzz in the Apple world lately about designer Dustin Curtis and his locked Apple ID. It’s a long and winding tale, but one that’s disturbing for those of us who are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem. In short, Dustin’s Apple ID ended up locked such that he couldn’t download or update apps, nor could he use Apple Music. His iCloud calendar stopped syncing, and even Handoff stopped working. However, iMessage and Photos continued to work.
How It Happened
The good news is that Apple has reactivated Dustin’s account, but the concerns remain. Let’s try to piece together a timeline of the story:
- Sometime in January: The bank account number tied to Dustin’s Apple Card account changed, causing autopay to fail.
- Mid-January: Dustin bought an M1-based MacBook Pro with his Apple Card. Apple offered a trade-in credit for an old MacBook Pro, and Dustin was told he would receive a trade-in kit and would have two weeks to send it in.
- The trade-in kit never arrived.
- Apple apparently tried to charge the Apple Card.
- Mid-February: Apple sent Dustin an email asking about the trade-in. Dustin replied that he never received the kit but didn’t receive a response from Apple.
- February 15th: Apple sent another email saying that it was unable to collect full payment for a new iPhone (that was erroneous, and was presumably an automated message) and that Dustin’s iTunes and Mac App Store accounts would be disabled until he resolved the situation with an Apple Card specialist at Goldman Sachs. Dustin missed this email initially, finding it only in a search after Apple locked his account.
- Late February: Dustin discovered that his account had been locked. He immediately called Apple Support and was told that they could do nothing except escalate the issue and that he should hopefully get a call within a day.
- Two days later, Dustin called Apple Support again. The representative said something about Apple Card but couldn’t help because Apple ID was a different department. The support rep emailed that department—email was apparently the only way to contact them.
- Dustin found the email he missed earlier and corrected his Apple Card info. However, when he tried to reply to that email, he received an automated “Address not found” bounce.
- Dustin used Apple Business Chat to contact Goldman Sachs support, who said they would email the Apple ID support department.
- An Apple ID support rep called Dustin to tell him that his accounts would be restored in 3–5 days. That happened, and all is back to normal.
In a statement to 9to5Mac, Apple denied that the issue was at all related to Apple Card:
We apologize for any confusion or inconvenience we may have caused for this customer. The issue in question involved a restriction on the customer’s Apple ID that disabled App Store and iTunes purchases and subscription services, excluding iCloud. Apple provided an instant credit for the purchase of a new MacBook Pro, and as part of that agreement, the customer was to return their current unit to us. No matter what payment method was used, the ability to transact on the associated Apple ID was disabled because Apple could not collect funds. This is entirely unrelated to Apple Card.
However, developer and blogger Michael Tsai questions Apple’s explanation:
As far as I can tell, it really is an Apple Card-specific issue. With a regular credit card, you can imagine that Apple would have pre-authorized a charge for the trade-in in case it didn’t arrive. And if the bank account linked to the card changed, that would not be Apple’s concern. Apple would add the additional charge, which would go on the card account, the issuer would pay Apple, and then from Apple’s point of view there would be no debt.
Many commentators have suggested that this situation was Dustin’s fault, and while that’s at least partially true, it also exposes some problems at Apple’s end.
And to be clear, I think I am less concerned that Apple disabled Dustin’s account as I am that it took so long to address the issue. If the call to Apple customer support had made the issue clear immediately, a couple of clicks would have resolved this. As is, and if true, looks like the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.
At the very least, it seems that Apple has fallen prey to what happens to so many large companies: entire departments don’t communicate with each other, aren’t aware of broader company policies, and can’t resolve problems outside of their direct sphere of influence.
For the rest of us, Dustin’s story throws a spotlight on the danger of doing too much business with a single company. When you buy your hardware from Apple, purchase your software through the App Store, and rely on subscriptions to Apple cloud services, paying for it all with an Apple credit card, you’re signing up for both great convenience and a certain level of risk. That’s not necessarily a bad strategy, but as the 19th-century industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie recommended, “Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket.”
In this case, watching the basket would entail paying attention to the effect that bank account numbers changing might have, making calendar reminders for known deadlines (like the trade-in kit arriving and its two-week return period), and creating an email strategy that reduces the chance of missing an important message.
It’s also worth putting some thought into how you would work around such a problem if it happened to you. Most Apple services aren’t mission-critical—you could probably go without Apple TV+ or Apple Fitness+ for a while—but what about iCloud Mail and iCloud Drive? Would the loss of iCloud Calendar syncing be problematic? Ensuring the continuity of certain services is yet another facet of a modern backup strategy (see “The Role of Bootable Duplicates in a Modern Backup Strategy,” 23 February 2021).