Apple has been intentionally misleading its customers, an Australian consumer rights body preparing a court case over the company’s handling of the notorious “error 53” iPhone bug has alleged. According to its investigation, Apple “routinely refused” to offer repairs to bricked devices if they had previously been serviced by a third-party firm.
The case centers on an iPhone issue that first developed in late 2014. Overnight, owners of iPhones who had a replacement display fitted by a third-party service provider stopped working. They refused to boot and would hang on the start-up screen with an “Error 53” warning. The devices could not be recovered using iTunes.
It later became apparent that the phones had automatically downloaded and installed a software update that contained a new “security measure.” It was intended to verify the Touch ID fingerprint sensor was functioning correctly and had not been tampered with. Because display repairs often necessitate a replacement or adjustment of the Touch ID sensor, thousands of iPhone owners suddenly found their devices were unusable.
It wasn’t until 2016 that Apple offered an official fix for the problem. In April of 2017, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commenced legal action against Apple. It claims the company’s actions were predatory and designed to penalize customers and third-party repair shops. Although Apple said it would fix all devices affected by “Error 53,” the ACCC says it has now found evidence this hasn’t been the case.
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ACCC investigators posed as Apple customers and called support hotlines at all 13 of Apple’s official Australian retail stores. In each instance, the investigators pretended to be iPhone owners and claimed that the speaker on their phone had stopped working after its display was replaced. The fictitious repair was completed by an independent tradesperson.
In all the cited cases, Apple refused to offer any help to the “customers.” The company’s retail representatives explained that the warranty on its products did not extend to damage caused by repairs completed by unauthorized individuals.
“In each call, Apple Australia represented to the ACCC caller that no Apple entity… was required to, or would, remedy the defective speaker at no cost under [Australian consumer law] if the screen of the iPhone had been replaced by someone other than Apple Australia or an Apple-authorised service provider,” the Guardian reports details in the ACCC’s court case allege.
If the court finds in the ACCC’s favor, the latest allegations confirm Apple broke Australian consumer law on multiple occasions. In Australia, the company’s practices are illegal because consumers have extended rights expressly designed to allow the repair of products by third-parties. The rules help to protect fair competition and ensure the continued livelihoods of independent repair shops.
BBC News reports that Rod Sims, chairman of the ACCC, said the rights provided by Australian law “exist independently of any manufacturer’s warranty and are not extinguished simply because a consumer has goods repaired by a third party.”
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While the ACCC appears to have compelling evidence to fight Apple with in court, the company is refusing to concede defeat. After obtaining access to the court documents, the Guardian reports that Apple has filed responses to the ACCC’s claims in which it flatly denies any wrongdoing.
The company dismissed the recorded undercover calls to its retail staff. It said that consumer law did not apply in the situations on the phone because the rule of law doesn’t extend to “hypothetical situations.” It appeared to suggest it would have supplied different information to a “real” Apple customer, even though it had no way of knowing the ACCC investigator’s identity.
Apple will now have the opportunity to protest the ACCC’s findings in the court room. The case won’t go on trial until mid-December, giving the ACCC more time to collate evidence against the company.
Apple has insisted it caused no harm to Australian consumers and noted it is now possible to restore devices bricked by Error 53. Its refusal to properly explain the calls made by the ACCC indicates the industry body could give it a hard time in court, particularly if the jury disagrees that the situations were “hypothetical.”