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Aussie Regulator Sues Apple For ‘Bricking’ Third-Party Repaired iPhones

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Error 53 row continues. Apple accused of ‘bricking’ iPhones, if cracked screens were fixed by third parties

Apple is being sued by the Australian consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), for making “false, misleading, or deceptive representations about consumers’ rights” in that country.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Apple used a software update to disable or ‘brick’ iPhones if a cracked screen was repaired by a third party (and not Apple itself).

The Australian watchdog lawsuit came about because of the ‘Error 53’ controversy, which erupted last year.iPhone SE TouchID

Third Party Repair

In February 2016 it emerged that update to iOS had been disabling iPhones that had a replacement TouchID sensor installed by third party, rendering them completely useless. Touch ID was first included in the iPhone 5S back in 2013 and has since become an integral security feature of subsequent models as well as the iPad.

Apple at the time told Silicon UK that it took customer security very seriously.

“Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customer,” it said.

However the firm subsequently apologised for the issue and quickly released an update to the ‘Error 53’ issue.

But that update did not restore TouchID functionality to any affected device. And the Australian watchdog has decided that was not good enough.

It alleged that between September 2014 and February 2016, Apple customers who downloaded software updates and then connected their devices to their computers received a message saying the device “could not be restored and the device had stopped functioning”.

Those customers apparently then approached Apple to fix their device, only to be told by the company that “no Apple entity … was required to, or would, provide a remedy” for free.

“The ACCC commenced an investigation following reports relating to ‘error 53’ – an error which disabled some consumers’ iPads or iPhones after downloading an update to Apple’s ‘iOS’ operating system,” the Aussie watchdog said. “Many consumers who experienced error 53 had previously had their Apple device repaired by a third party; usually replacing a cracked screen.”

It said that its investigation had found that Apple appeared to have: “Routinely refused to look at or service consumers’ defective devices if a consumer had previously had the device repaired by a third party repairer, even where that repair was unrelated to the fault.”

The ACCC said it disputes Apple’s belief that consumers with faulty products are not entitled to a free remedy if their Apple device had previously been repaired by third party, “unauthorised repairers”.

Consumer Law

“Consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law exist independently of any manufacturer’s warranty and are not extinguished simply because a consumer has goods repaired by a third party,“ ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

“Denying a consumer their consumer guarantee rights simply because they had chosen a third party repairer not only impacts those consumers but can dissuade other customers from making informed choices about their repair options including where they may be offered at lower cost than the manufacturer.”

“As consumer goods become increasingly complex, businesses also need to remember that consumer rights extend to any software or software updates loaded onto those goods,” he concluded. “Faults with software or software updates may entitle consumers to a free remedy under the Australian Consumer Law.”

The ACCC said it was seeking pecuniary penalties, injunctions, declarations, compliance program orders, corrective notices, and costs.

An Apple spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a Reuters email requesting comment.

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