Australian regulators have succeeded in a federal lawsuit against Apple for anti-consumer practices, as the Australian Federal Court slapped the company with a $6.6 million fine. The suit alleged that Apple used a software update to disable hundreds of iPhones and iPads, flashing an “Error 53” message on devices that had been serviced by unauthorized repair shops, then refused to unlock devices displaying that message.
At the core of the Australian suit is an issue that has attracted international regulatory attention: Apple’s stated unwillingness to fix devices that have been opened by third-party repair shops. While Apple told customers that it has no obligation to repair devices that were previously serviced by unauthorized technicians, the Australian Consumer Law and similar laws elsewhere make clear that this is illegal.
“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,” said Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Commissioner Sarah Court. Apple violated the law by telling 275 customers that it would not fix their devices.
Reports suggest that the ACCC’s investigation sparked a change in Apple’s actions within Australia, including outreach to around 5,000 customers, compensation for those with Error 53-bricked devices, and corrected information about warranties and consumer law on its website and in its stores. Additionally, the company had issued a software update to fix Error 53 devices in February 2016, and successfully dismissed a U.S. lawsuit over the issue two years ago.
However, as recently as this year, Apple has continued to release software updates that trigger error messages based on unauthorized part replacements, which third-party shops believe may be testing the waters for more restrictive policies. It has also used software updates and its web site to warn customers about risks they are taking by proceeding with unauthorized repairs.