ACCC Investigates Apple's Error 53 For Potential Consumer Law Breach

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has launched an investigation into whether Apple's Error 53 is in breach of consumer laws.

When the error code hit, effectively bricking iPhones, users initially thought it must be a bug. It was quickly revealed that the error is actually a security measure for the Touch ID fingerprint recognition technology. The error is activated when the phone is worked on by a third-party repairer using non-standard techniques or components.

Apple says the feature is protecting consumers from unauthorised access to features such as Apple Pay. iPhone users however, have say notice about the feature was insufficient and lawsuits have begun. Repairers are speaking out also, saying it is part of a plan by Apple to monopolise market for phone repairs.

"We are currently considering whether the reports are likely to raise concerns under the Competition and Consumer Act," said a spokesperson for the ACCC in a statement.

"In particular the ACCC is examining whether this practice contravenes the consumer guarantee and false and misleading representations provisions of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). The ACCC would also be concerned about any practices which restrict competition, including through access to parts or data."

Apple have been contacted for comment on the ACCC statement, responding with links to the ID Touch and Error 53 support pages on its website instead.



    Oh for god's sake, if you disconnect the thumbprint reader, it does what it should and stops people bypassing the security.
    If some dodgy 3rd party repair place can't repair it properly, then that is more an issue for the dodgy repair place.

    Decent third party places move the original thumbprint sensor over to the new screen, and you don't get the issue.

    If the thumbrint reader itself is detroyed, then sure, you have to take it back to Apple for repair, but this is hardly a huge issue. Plenty of security features on cars require you to go back to an authorised dealer if you need them reset/repaired, I don't see that this is any different.

    Last edited 15/02/16 10:22 am

      Another example of the Aus government and associates completely failing to understand technology.

      Error 51 = good security feature...

        A good security feature would be active constantly - this "feature" only activates AFTER an attempted iOS upgrade

        This is a clear attempt to monopolize iPhone repairs - when they're charging more than the manufacturing cost of a full phone for a screen replacement, it's pretty clear what Apple have to gain

        I own a phone with a thumb print scanner if it fails I am asked for a password with the option of 2 factor authentication not just having my phone bricked. The thumb print data is stored in the phone software not the sensor as well.

          So it's less secure. Good for you.

            My phone is encased in steel. You can't see or touch the screen or any part of the actual phone, and it can't establish communications with anything. It's very secure, the NSA can't spy on it or anything and if it gets stolen it's really hard for anyone to get my data. Oh your phone doesn't have an impenetrable steel case around it? So it's less secure. Good for you.

            Or we can apply common sense. Security is only useful until it interferes with the device's purpose. A bricked phone can't perform its purpose.

        Whether it's a good security feature or not, it's not allowed to breach Australian consumer law. We have the right to choose a third party repairer and Apple isn't allowed to require that repairs go through them else the device end up disabled (though they can void the warranty). That's what the ACCC will be investigating.

        Last edited 16/02/16 10:38 am

      Doesn't it seem like a better option would be just to disable the whole touchid system? That way the phone at least still works and look no security breach!

      The issue is that it's less about protecting users than trying to make sure only Apple can repair phones. It's pretty easy for a competent repairer to replace a screen, but it's more profitable if Apple just has you pay a couple of hundred dollars for a refurbished phone instead.

      Which make no mistake, is their intent. It's illegal to do this with cars so why shouldn't it be with any other expensive device?

        In most cases the repairer can repair the phone, the touch ID part is usually okay even with a cracked screen.
        With Apple's income streams, the refurb/replacement revenue it so small as to be negligible, it is quite literally not a drop in their endless ocean of money.

        They are extremely serious about user privacy protection though, and extremely vocal about it. I would expect that the Touch-ID system couldn't be swapped out with a generic one or one from another phone and just work.
        If they just diabled the touch-id system, then people would still bring a lawsuit.

        Most security systems worth their salt require you to go to an authorised centre to have them repaired, I don't see the issue here.

        I am sure Apple will chase down revenue opportunities quite ruthlessly, but this looks to be way more about security than about nickle and diming on the repairs.

        Last edited 15/02/16 10:36 am

          If as you state "They are extremely serious about user privacy protection" why is this "feature" only checked and activated at a software upgrade rather than at the time of repair, on reboot or periodically? No ... the phone is left "unsecured" months after. There lies the joke in Apple's justification. If they were so concerned, deactivate the touch AT THE TIME OF REPAIR and fall back on the PIN as security as it has done for iPhone for the past 7+ years.
          This is nothing more than a forced attempt to force Apple supplied service ... or a knee jerk justification for the error that wasn't well thought out.

            Was the security feature there in previous OS versions? We'll really only know if it's OS upgrade only once people already on the new version have their device repaired to see if it stops instantly.

          This is not the first time Apple have tried to make it more difficult for third party businesses to do repairs on their systems and I doubt it will be the last.

          And even if it's unintentional, the fact they make it difficult for customers to choose who repairs their devices is still illegal under Australian consumer law. And it's not the first time they have actively been dismissive of consumer law.

          Also see my points in the post below.

        The issue is that it's less about protecting users than trying to make sure only Apple can repair phones.
        You're speculating...

          Or I'm realising that it's more effective at screwing over people that have their phone repaired elsewhere than it is as a security feature?

          How many people do you think have had their phones stolen and the touchID reverse engineered to access their Apple Pay account? Especially as it's an issue in places like Australia where Apple Pay hasn't even been released?

          Or perhaps I realise the company actively tells customers that they can't get it repaired elsewhere and will in fact refuse to do anything if they can tell the product has been serviced outside of an Apple environment?

          Or perhaps it's because I used to work for the company and have a reasonable sense of how things work.

            the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.

              Shame I just listed a whole load of evidence.

              Yes some of it circumstantial but it's still no reason to try and suggest the entire argument is null and void.

              If you want to be an ass fine, but if you want to actually try adding to the conversation instead of making pot shots that'd be much more welcome.

                Evidence? You started two 2 paragraphs with 'or perhaps', and three of the paragraphs were questions.

                I agree that it looks as if apple is deliberately making it hard for cheap repairs, but you -are- speculating, and you did not provide any -firm evidence-.

                  Sarcasm is a default position for me.

                  Seriously I added a stylistic tone to the post as a counter to an aggressive post suggesting my post had no merit.

                  That time and the questions was to suggest there's potentially a lot more behind anything anyone posts than just the specific text.

                  Honestly I don't cite every source for every comment because I don't have time, if someone wants to know how or why I arrived at a point ask and I'll tell them.

              So first hand experience from working for said company, eg witnessing or participating in actions isn't evidence enough? It is for the courts.

      What happens if your thumbprint sensor is broken and you need a replacement? If apple implemented a secondary pin code to bypass the code error 53 when replacing the part, that would have been good.

    Governments all over the world are investigating this. To those who don't quite understand the issue, the immediate thought is "this has got to be so illegal" at least that was my first thought when I first read about it.

    If I had to predict the future, my guess is that apple will be forced to do the same thing differently and instead of bricking the phone, disable the touch id sensor at the OS level + require users to re-enter their apple ID and choose a different security method if the OS detects the touch ID sensor is damaged or in any other way non-original.

    Disabling the security features and partially locking down the phone is fine if you detect something is damaged - Samsung does that with Knox - but bricking the phone until you bring it to an apple retailer? That's just extortion.

    I can't agree here..

    If you put Nissan parts in a Toyota and turn around and point the finger at Toyota then you're just an idiot. Same situation here, you're using non-genuine parts in your device.

    Besides that, we all know that if you have your phone repaired by a 3rd party repairer it voids your warranty so Apple aren't really under obligation here..

      Cars have specific protections to ensure you can get genuine or appropriate parts from nearly any dealer.

      The big issue here is that Apple try and prevent that which limits options for repairs. That's the illegal part, not necessarily that a third party can potentially screw up a repair with non genuine parts.

      That's stupid you're using the incorrect part not just non genuine.

        I'm sorry but you are looking at this wrong. It's more like replacing a set of tyres for a car. I can put a set of replacement tyres on my car that were the exact same make and model that originally came with the car or I can choose a 3rd party option that are made to the same specifications. These 3rd party tyres may not give the same performance as the original tyres supplied, however they should not render the car totally unusable. And that is what consumer law is for right there, it doesn't force us to use only 1 source of supply.
        And I still fail to see how anyone can defend Apple saying it's a security feature... What a security feature ONLY after you have updated your phone??? C'mon please, Apple surely couldn't have pulled the wool that far over your eyes could they?.

      If the Nissan parts caused the fault you would be right, But in this case they aren't causing a fault. In this case Toyota recognized that you had used Nissan parts instead of their over priced parts and stopped your car from running. It has nothing to do with the quality of the parts, and everything to do with Apple trying to force you to use them and only them for repairs. In Australia, that is against the law.

    In Australia we have a right to choose any repairer we like. Years ago I used to work for a printer company that dealt with a similar issue to this. Customers would refill their toner cartridges, often with poor quality toner that would damage the machine. It was determined that the company couldn't force customers to use genuine toner cartridges (though it tried every trick to get around that), but could only void the warranty if it was determined that third party toner had been used. Customers had the right to use third party toner if they so chose.

    Apple is entitled to end warranty on devices repaired by a third party, but is not entitled to disable or otherwise interfere with the operation of a device that has been repaired by a third party. Apple's explanation about device security may or may not be valid, but it is irrelevant since it must not contravene Australian law in the process. Requiring repairs to go through Apple and no other repairer significantly reduces competition, which is a key factor in determining if consumer law has been breached.

      Spot on. They have in effect destroyed a customer's device. Every customer is entitled to, not only a replacement but also restitution for any personal data lost due to the destruction of the phone.

        So if you take your car to a mechanic and he botches your engine, the car manufacturer should pay you restitution? That's just silly.

          If the car is designed to seize up, force the brakes on and refuse to start because one of the parts was swapped with an otherwise perfectly functional replacement by a third party and not the manufacturer's own service centre, and doing that caused you to get fired because you couldn't get to work, absolutely you'd be entitled to restitution.

          It's not about botching anything. If the hardware ID on the sensor changes the phone bricks, period. It happens even on competent replacements of the sensor.

            Sorry, that's not the issue... The issue is that if a technician installs the incorrect hardware, or installs it incorrectly, then the device won't function. There's no issue when the correct hardware is installed correctly.

            So if an installer/mechanic installs the wrong part incorrectly into your phone/car, how is that the fault of the manufacturer?

            Last edited 17/02/16 1:08 pm

              You're mistaken. That definitely is the issue. You can't swap out the sensor for another one, the sensor has a hardware ID in it that is paired to iOS's Secure Enclave on the device.

              From Apple's statement to The Guardian:
              We protect fingerprint data using a secure enclave, which is uniquely paired to the touch ID sensor.

              This refers to the fact the software is paired to the hardware ID, preventing it from being swapped out for another sensor without re-pairing, a software technique Apple has kept to itself and not shared with third party repairers.

              From Apple's website:
              When iOS finds an unidentified or unexpected Touch ID module, the check fails. For example, an unauthorized or faulty screen replacement could cause the check to fail.

              Note the word 'unexpected' in the first sentence, and unauthorised followed by 'or' in the second. It's not just faulty or broken replacements and people who know exactly how the hardware works and how to successfully repair it have reported that it still fails because it's paired to the exact piece of hardware.

              For example, Jessa Jones is quite well known:
              iPhone 6 will check for a signal from the original fingerprint sensor that is coded to the logic board, and if it does not detect that signal the phone will brick with error 53.

              Emphasis mine. Note she says 'the' original sensor, not any official sensor. iFixIt has similarly reported that even swapping a sensor from one iPhone 6 to another will cause error 53:

              The trouble with that answer, though, is that Error 53 isn’t necessarily a problem of third-party parts. It can happen with new OEM parts out of a different iPhone. It’s a matter of synchronization—not third-party parts.

              There are plenty of other reports online along the same lines. This error will happen with any change in the sensor, even if the replacement sensor is from another compatible official Apple device, unless the Apple do it themselves. I've done my homework on this problem, I'm reasonably familiar with what we're talking about.

              Last edited 17/02/16 2:28 pm

    At the end of the day, there is no reason the phone had to brick. All they needed to do was lock the touch id, allowing the owner to continue using their almost $1000 device without touch id untill they are able to get apple to re-register the touch id. Note, this is not only an issue with replacements. Apple said so themselves that it could be a fault. This fault may not affect the phone in any other way except to stop the touch id from syncing. As punishment to the owner for having an apple device, apple bricks their phone and deletes all their data from it. Other phones have fingerprint systems on them. None if them brick the phone if a screen is changed.

      Almost $1000? They're over $1000 at a minimum now

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