Update: This story has been updated with news of a hacking tool that may have led Apple to remove the iCloud Activation Lock status page
The iCloud Activation Lock status page, a tool that checked the the status of an iOS device so that used-iPhone shoppers could make sure they weren't buying a stolen handset or tablet, has disappeared from the site.
Judging by archived versions of the page stored at The Wayback Machine, the iCloud Activation Lock status page disappeared at some point between January 17 and 29. The URL now displays a 404 error page. A link to the iCloud page was removed last Tuesday (Jan. 24) from an Apple technical-support document entitled "Find My iPhone Activation Lock," 9to5Mac reports.
Did Apple take down the iCloud Activation Lock status page intentionally, and if so, why? We're not sure. We've reached out to Apple for comment, and will update this story when we get a response.
The iCloud Activation Lock status page let second-hand shoppers plug in a device's IMEI number and/or serial number to check whether the device's Activation Lock was still enabled. A shopper could ask a seller on eBay for those unique numbers. If Activation Lock hadn't been removed, it was a red flag that the phone in question might be stolen.
Apple's Activation Lock information page states "Don't take ownership of any used iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch until it has been removed from the previous owner's account," but knowing whether the device has been removed is very difficult to do without the now-vanished tool.
For now, we cannot recommend buying a used iPhone, iPad or iPod touch until the Activation Lock status page returns or is replaced.
UPDATE (Jan. 31, 8:45AM ET): Apple has yet to comment, but it appears that the Activation Lock status tool may be being used by iPhone and iPad thieves to defeat Activation Lock. The video below, made by a Chinese electronics firm, shows how at about the five-minute mark.