Remember the dreaded “error 53?” Apple apologised for the bug in early 2016, when it turned out its iPhone 6 and 6 Plus smartphones were being bricked if the user had the home button repaired somewhere other than Apple.
Now Australia’s top consumer watchdog is taking on the company for allegedly refusing to fix defective devices if they’d been repaired by an unauthorised third partyeven if the repair was for something unrelated to the bug, like a cracked screen.
On Thursday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it was beginning proceedings in Federal Court against Apple for “false, misleading, or deceptive representations about consumer rights.”
To recap, error 53 occurred when a user tried to update their product to the latest version of iOS. At that point, the software automatically checked the Touch ID sensor, and if it found it did not match the rest of the hardware probably because a third party had fixed or replaced it the phone might stop functioning all together.
“Businesses also need to remember that consumer rights extend to any software or software updates loaded onto those goods.”
Apple told Mashable in Feb. 2016 that error 53 was the result of a failed security test, designed to check whether Touch ID worked properly before the device left the factory. It released a software update to fix the issue.
“We apologize for any inconvenience, this was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers,” it said at the time. “Customers who paid for an out-of-warranty replacement of their device based on this issue should contact AppleCare about a reimbursement.”
It now has a page dedicated to what to do if you see an error 53 on your smartphone.
According to the ACCC, having your iPhone repaired somewhere other than Apple doesn’t automatically extinguish your right to have Apple fix your smartphone after it’s been bricked by the company’s own software error.
“Consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law exist independently of any manufacturer’s warranty and are not extinguished simply because a consumer has goods repaired by a third party,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said in a statement.
“As consumer goods become increasingly complex, businesses also need to remember that consumer rights extend to any software or software updates loaded onto those goods.”
Dimi Ioannou, principal at Australian law firm Maurice Blackburn, said that when a consumer buys a product, they’re entitled to expect it to work and not need repair or replacement.
Under Australian consumer law, customers have the right to ask the retailer to fix the fault for free, she explained. Such consumer guarantees exist regardless of whether the consumer had a product fixed by a third party.
“They shouldn’t be penalised for shopping around for the best deal on repairs,” she said. “Apple products aren’t cheap.”
Furthermore, according to Ioannou, manufacturers can’t enforce a monopoly on product repairs.
Apple has been contacted for comment.
UPDATE: April 6, 2017, 4:17 p.m. AEST Added comment from Dimi Ioannou.