France Smacks Apple With $41 Million Fine For Slowing Down iPhones

A screenshot of the iPhone page on the French version of the Apple Store. Translated into English. (Screenshot: Apple)

Back in 2017, Apple admitted to throttling older iPhones with new software updates. It sparked the ire of iPhone users everywhere and a number of lawsuits, leading Apple to offer discounted battery replacements. Today, the DGCCRF, France’s consumer watchdog group, has slapped Apple with a €25 million ($US27.4 ($41) million) fine for failing to inform consumers that updating their software would lead to slower iPhones.

In addition to the fine, for the next month, Apple’s French website will now have to display a notice on its iPhone page informing consumers it had misled them. Roughly translated, the notice states that in December 2017, public prosecutors had received a complaint from a consumer advocacy group regarding the iPhone slowdowns. Following an investigation, the DGCCRF determined Apple had engaged in “deceptive commercial practice by omission” by throttling the iPhones 6 series, iPhone SE, and iPhone 7 starting with the iOS 10.2.1 updates.

The advocacy group referenced is Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée (HOP), which filed a suit in late 2017 against Apple citing a 2015 French law that bans companies from making older tech obsolete. “This is a historic victory against scandalous ready-to-rubbish practices, for consumers as well as the environment,” HOP co-founders Laetitia Vasseur and Samuel Sauvage told AFP.

At the time, Apple defended its decision to slow down older phones as a means of preventing poor performance due to ageing batteries. And to be fair, it had a point. A lithium-ion battery’s ability to hold a charge diminishes with age. Sudden bouts of peak power usage would, over time, lead phones to randomly shut down. The updates were designed to limit how much power the phone was using at a given time, thereby extending battery life.

But as the DGCCRF’s decision points out, Apple’s problem was in pushing the slowdowns on the sly. While Apple’s intentions may have been in preserving the devices’ longevity, it certainly didn’t appear that way. For many, it looked like the company was sneakily forcing users to toss their older phones for newer ones, thereby fattening Apple’s profits at the expense of customers.

As for the fine, the DGCCRF and AFP both say that Apple has “accepted it.” Probably as doing so will help the company avoid the matter going to a potentially embarrassing public trial. Gizmodo reached out to Apple for comment but didn’t immediately receive a response. The company did, however, provide a statement to AFP saying, “Our goal has always been to create secure products appreciated by our clients, and making iPhones that last as long as possible is an important part of that.”

According to Le Parisien, the fine is the highest ever imposed by the consumer watchdog. However, the DGCCRF has declined to award compensation to individuals affected by the slowdown, telling Le Parisien that it would be hard to assess the individual damage and subsequent financial impact. That said, 15,000 people reportedly approached HOP saying they had been impacted, and the group told both AFP and Le Parisien it is considering filing a civil suit on their behalf.

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