Error 53 comes back to bite Apple as Australian court fines it £5 million for disabling iPhones repaired by third parties
Apple has been handed a rebuke by an Australian court after it imposed a modest fine against the company for “bricking” iPhones.
The Australian Federal Court on Tuesday fined Apple AUS$9m (£5.05m) because of a software update that disabled iPhones that had cracked screens repaired by third parties.
The lawsuit is a victory for Australia’s consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), who had sued the firm for breaching the country’s consumer law by telling some 275 customers they were not 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,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court was quoted by Reuters as saying in a statement.
“Global companies must ensure their returns policies are compliant with the Australian Consumer Law, or they will face ACCC action,” the Court said.
An Apple spokeswoman reportedly said in an email the company had “very productive conversations with the ACCC about this” without commenting further on the court finding.
The ACCC said after it told Apple about its investigation, the U.S. company sought to compensate customers whose devices were made inoperable by the software update, known as “error 53”. So far, Apple had contacted about 5,000 customers, the ACCC said.
Apple has also offered to improve staff training, information about warranties and consumer law on its website, and processes to ensure compliance, the ACCC said.
Apple had been sued by the ACCC back in April 2017, for making “false, misleading, or deceptive representations about consumers’ rights” in that country.
Specifically, the lawsuit said 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 in 2016.
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, and now the Australian Federal court, has decided that was not good enough.
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.