‘Erase Mac’ doesn’t?

What does the terse phrase Erase Mac mean? If you think that it means completely erase your Mac, then I’m with you. But that apparently isn’t what Apple means, at least not when it comes to the Find My service and Activation Lock.

This all came to a head just before Christmas, when I was writing recent articles about Find My and Activation Lock. In one of Apple’s support notes, I saw the following:


To turn off Activation Lock through the iCloud website, you apparently click on a button labelled Erase Mac, and select Next “until the device is erased.” I immediately assumed this was a documentation error, and the instructions were incorrect. So I went in and looked at that feature, and there appeared to be no other option, not for a Mac


nor for an iOS device


But hang on: according to another support note, ‘Erase your Mac’ is one of the features of Find My, which allows you to delete everything on your lost or stolen Mac.


To me, “All content and settings will be erased” has one very clear meaning: that Mac will be totally wiped. But the words immediately below don’t seem to describe the same thing: “remotely erase all your personal information from your Mac.”

Look in some other Apple support notes and there’s further doubt as to exactly what might be erased:


“all of your information (including credit, debit, or prepaid cards for Apple Pay) is deleted from the device”. Does that include my address book, Mail messages, or the contents of my ~/Documents folder?


Another support note is similarly vague about erasing an iOS device, first referring to “prevent anyone else from accessing the data on your missing device”, then returning to the same vague hand-waving.

I’ve discovered someone who has actually used ‘Erase Mac’ on the iCloud website to turn off Activation Lock. As far as they were concerned, it didn’t erase anything on that Mac, just disabled Activation Lock and the Find My service on it.

Just to make this clear, let’s establish what Apple means by the following terms:

  • erase filedelete a file completely
  • erase volume/diskdelete the entire contents of that volume/disk
  • erase Mac – maybe (or maybe not) delete some Apple Pay data on that Mac.