Apple offers former iPhone users way to stop it hijacking their text messages

Apple has set up a simple Web tool to allow former iPhone users to dissociate their phone number from Apple's iMessage service

Apple is at last offering a simple way for former iPhone users to receive text messages sent into limbo by the company's iMessage service.

The problem affects former iPhone users who transferred their SIM card or phone number to a non-Apple phone. If they had set up their iPhone to route text messages to other iPhone owners via iMessage rather than their carrier's SMS (Short Message Service) servers, they were often unable to receive text messages from those people after ditching their own iPhone.

Affected messages continued to be routed through Apple's proprietary iMessage service, which sends them direct to the specific device Apple has linked with the phone number, rather than the one the carrier currently associates with the number. Because iMessage only works with iOS devices, those messages would not arrive on non-Apple phones.

To solve the problem, Apple previously advised deregistering the affected phone number from its iMessage service -- but provided no self-service method for former iPhone users to do so. In order to unlink the phone number, users were required to put their SIM back into their old iPhone and manually switch off the service in the phone's settings. Users who no longer had access to their old iPhone were told to call Apple support.

On Sunday the company published a Web form allowing users to unlink their phone from the iMessage service by entering their phone number and, after a short wait, a six-digit confirmation code sent to the number as a regular SMS to ensure it won't be left in limbo.

The problem of the disappearing messages has plagued ex-users of the iMessage service since shortly after Apple introduced it in 2011, and has prompted many online complaints.

In May this year it even prompted former iPhone owner Adrienne Moore to file a class action lawsuit against Apple in California. Moore, who replaced her iPhone 4 with a Samsung Galaxy S5, claimed that Apple "tortiously interferes" with contracts between users and their cellular providers as it prevents them from receiving all of their text messages.

Besides demanding damages exceeding US$5 million, she also wants a mandatory injunction requiring Apple to fix its iMessage service and start delivering all new and previous text messages that were not delivered to Moore and others affected by the same issue.

The case is ongoing and Judge Lucy Koh, known for dealing with patent cases between Apple and Samsung, is presiding over the suit.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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