For many people, one of their biggest digitally related fears is
a loss of access to their online lives: photos, videos, contacts,
past and future calendar entries, email archives, and much more.
While you can take every precaution, sometimes things go awry: you
haven't typed in your password in a while, a password vault becomes
corrupted or lost, or you lost or have stolen from your phones or
other devices you used to validate a login.
Apple is offering a powerful new tool mediated by privacy for
iCloud users. You can pick a trusted person or people for the
awkwardly named iCloud Data Recovery Service. If you're locked out
of your account for some reason and can't regain access, these
contacts can receive a validation code and provide it to you, and
you can unlock certain synced data.
(An important tip! Even if you don't want to use this feature,
you may have family members who need help—and you might want to
talk to them about adding you, or even setting
this feature up with their permission for them on their
iCloud has two forms of data it handles: stuff that's synced
across your devices and stored so you can also view it or interact
with it at iCloud.com, and more private information that is synced
between devices using end-to-end encryption. For that latter kind
of data, Apple doesn't have the details to decrypt it: iCloud acts
just as a device conduit—only any iPhone, iPad, or Mac you have
logged into the iCloud account can access that data and only on the
The iCloud Data Recovery Service re-establishes access only to
your iCloud.com-accessible synced details. That includes a lot of
kinds of things, however: photos and videos, contacts, notes,
iCloud Drive files, and device backups. End-to-end encrypted data
you can't recover this way includes iCloud Keychain items, Health
data, Messages, Apple Pay and other payment information, and more.
Apple provides a list of which iCloud data is encrypted in
transit or in transit & on server (iCloud.com accessible or
recoverable) and which is end-to-end encrypted.
Apple suggests—and I concur!—only anointing someone as a
Recovery Contact you really trust. This person could obtain access
in certain circumstances to your data by gaining access to one of
your trusted devices—an iPhone, iPad, or Mac associated with your
Apple ID account with two-factor authentication enabled.
An account holder has to be at least 13 years old to enable this
form of account recovery. Anyone selected as a recovery contact
must have iOS 15 or iPadOS 15 running on an iPhone or iPad to
provide recovery service.
Once you've thought about who to pick, here's how to add
- Go to Settings > Account Name > Password
& Security > Account Recovery.
- Tap Add Recovery Contact.
- Read the disclosures and then tap Add Recovery
- Apple authenticates you via Touch ID or Face ID, or requires an
- From the Add Recovery Contact screen, if you're in a Family
Sharing group, you can select any other members; if not, tap
Choose Someone Else. Tap Next. Family Sharing
group members are automatically added (and informed); otherwise,
proceed to step 6.
- To add people, you can start typing to select them from your
contacts list. Some names may be suggested, too. Tap Add
when done. (You can have a total of up to five Recovery Contacts
from your Family Sharing group and contacts.)
- On the Send a Message screen, Apple provides helpfully
prewritten text to explain what you're inviting someone to do. You
can tap Edit Message to revise it or tap Send to
send them the invitation.
On the Account Recovery screen, you now see a list of contacts
with a status below in small type marking whether they're active or
have had a request sent to them. You can tap any contact to choose
to remove them, or to resend an invitation if they haven't yet
In the event you need help from one of your Recovery Contacts,
you can follow steps on one of your devices to recover iCloud
access. Part of that process with provide you with information to
give to contact, and Apple suggests you do this in real-time by
phone or in-person (safety permitting). Your contact will receive a
recovery code that you can enter on your iPhone or iPad, and then
you can reset your Apple ID password.
In this process, you may lose access to some of the end-to-end
encrypted data synced via iCloud. However, as long as you can still
unlock your devices, that data should remain in place. When you
re-enable your Apple ID account, you can also re-enable these
services, which may prompt you to merge data across devices.
Ask Mac 911
We've compiled a list of the questions we get asked most
frequently, along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is
covered. If not, we're always looking for new problems to solve!
Email yours to firstname.lastname@example.org, including screen captures as
appropriate and whether you want your full name used. Not every
question will be answered, we don't reply to email, and we cannot
provide direct troubleshooting advice.