Apple really doesn’t like its customers having the right to repair their own devices, and while Apple fights it out in the US, it’s being accused of sneakily trying to get around Australian law. The Guardian has obtained court documents that detail a sting operation by Australia’s consumer watchdog that showed Apple wilfully misled customers about their rights.
You might remember “Error 53” from such hits as “Apple gets sued” and “Apple being sued“. But if not, just know that it was an error message that popped up informing users that their iOS device had been bricked following unauthorised repairs. At first, Apple said it was actually a security feature, then it said that it was a software check that should have only occurred at the factory. The tech giant has since issued a fix. But that hasn’t stopped the lawsuits.
The case being brought to court by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) alleges that Apple’s staff informed customers that they were not eligible for a free repair or replacement if their device had been taken to an unauthorised repair outlet. Australian law gives consumers the right to a free repair or replacement in the event that a product is “faulty or of unacceptable quality”. Error 53, according to Apple, was a mistake. A mistake that renders a very expensive piece of hardware useless.
The best part of this is Apple’s alleged defence. According to the court documents obtained by The Guardian, the ACCC’s sting operation called all of the official Apple retailers in Australia and told the representatives that an iPhone’s speakers had stopped working after the screen was replaced by a third-party. From the documents:
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or would, remedy the defective speaker at no cost under the [Australian consumer law] if the screen of the iPhone had been replaced by someone other than Apple Australia or an Apple-authorised service provider.
Apple isn’t publicly responding to the charges, but the court documents show its attorneys believe this case is frivolous because “hypothetical circumstances” don’t constitute a breach. Apple maintains that a real customer with a real issue would have been told all about their rights.
The ACCC also maintains that a message on Apple’s US website misled customers. It informed users who had received the error message that, “if the screen or any other part on your iPhone or iPad was replaced somewhere else”, they should “contact Apple Support about pricing information for out-of-warranty repairs”. Apple disagrees that this was misleading because it was only referring to the company’s own warranty.
Last June, a US court in California rejected one Error 53-related lawsuit, but a separate suit in Seattle is ongoing. The ACCC is seeking “pecuniary penalties, injunctions, declarations, compliance program orders, corrective notices, and costs”. Court proceedings are scheduled to begin in mid-December.