i just read this in an article http://www.pcworld.com/article/2034650/find-my-mac-both-useful-and-frustrating-for-law-enforcement.html

and sure enough, on the apple website it says "offline" can occur if your Mac is not connected to wifi? Is this true?

That wouldn't make any sense at all. So Find My Mac is basically useless if someone has an ethernet cable..

  • 1
    ...and what is your actual question ? – Ruskes Jun 11 '13 at 20:29
  • True, the location service is dependent on wifi triangulation. You can still lock your Mac though as long as it's online via ethernet or wifi. This allows you to specify a message (Give me my computer!) before sending the lock command. The lock command shuts down the Mac, enables a firmware password to prevent erasing the disk and requires you to enter the specified passcode while displaying the message before it can be used. Still not impenetrable but can act as a deterrent. – Mr Rabbit Jun 11 '13 at 20:51
  • My question is that, if I lose my mac or it gets stolen will I not be able to use Find My Mac to find it? or if my wifi is off for some reason I'm SOL? – WTHapple Jun 11 '13 at 21:57

Find My Mac needs two things to work:

  1. An working internet connection, so that the Mac can contact Apple's servers and register its location.
  2. A means of determining the Mac's location.

For the first condition, either a wired ethernet or Wi-Fi connection will suffice. For the second condition, only Wi-Fi will work, because the Wi-Fi radio is used to triangulate a position, based on Apple's database of Wi-Fi networks around the world. Essentially, you can take the names of Wi-Fi networks around you and their relative signal strengths, and Apple's database (and others like it) can determine where you are, within a relatively small radius.

While you can get a rough geolocation based on an IP address, it's not nearly precise enough to be useful for locating a Mac, hence why an ethernet connection alone is not enough (it could probably determine the city the Mac is in, but nothing more concrete).

A few useful things to keep in mind based on this:

  • A Mac can be located if the Wi-Fi adapter is turned on, but not connected to any networks and the ethernet connection has an internet connection. You can test this easily enough yourself.
  • If your Wi-Fi is on, but not connected (nor is the ethernet) to the internet, Find My Mac still won't work.
  • Turning off Wi-Fi will disable Find My Mac, regardless of whether there's any ethernet connection. However the Find My Mac service does cache recent locations (although I'm not sure for how long).

So, for the best chance at recovering a lost Mac, make sure that the Wi-Fi adapter hasn't been turned off. If you need to do so (i.e. getting on a plane, etc.), be sure to turn it back on when possible.

  • Thank you for your answer. It makes a lot of sense. I guess I was wondering if a thief turned off my wi-fi would I be screwed and that's yes. So if the thief turned off wifi, but had an ethernet connection. Can I track or no? – WTHapple Jun 12 '13 at 4:28
  • @WTHapple yes, turning off Wi-Fi (or otherwise ensuring it can't get any signals) will disable tracking, regardless of whether there's an ethernet connection. If that answers your question, please click the checkmark to mark it as such. – robmathers Jun 12 '13 at 4:31
  • Note: if the machine's Wi-Fi is off Find My Mac can still do all the other functions (other than displaying on a map). So if it got stolen you can fireware lock the machine so then its completely useless to the thief the next time it is connected to the internet – Trent Sep 11 '17 at 5:37

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