By Emeka Chiaghanam
APPLE has been fined $6.6 million by the Australian Federal Court for anti-consumer practices following a legal challenge by a consumer rights group related to the company’s response after iOS updates bricked devices that had been repaired by third parties.
The suit alleged that Apple used a software update to disable hundreds of iPhones and iPads, flashing an “Error 53” message on devices that had been serviced by unauthorized repair shops, then refused to unlock devices displaying that message.
The ACCC says Apple admitted that, between February 2015 and February 2016 – via the Apple US’ website, Apple Australia’s staff in-store and customer service phone calls – it had informed at least 275 Australian customers affected by error 53 that they were no longer eligible for a remedy if their device had been repaired by a third party.
“The mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply,” said Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Commissioner Sarah Court. Apple violated the law by telling 275 customers that it would not fix their devices.
Reports suggest that the ACCC’s investigation sparked a change in Apple’s actions within Australia, including outreach to around 5,000 customers, compensation for those with Error 53-bricked devices, and corrected information about warranties and consumer law on its website and in its stores. Additionally, the company had issued a software update to fix Error 53 devices in February 2016, and successfully dismissed a U.S. lawsuit over the issue two years ago.
However, as recently as this year, Apple has continued to release software updates that trigger error messages based on unauthorized part replacements, which third-party shops believe may be testing the waters for more restrictive policies. It has also used software updates and its web site to warn customers about risks they are taking by proceeding with unauthorized repairs.