Australian regulator sues for Apple alleged bricking of iPhones repaired by unauthorized third parties

“Australia’s consumer watchdog has sued Apple Inc. alleging it used a software update to disable iPhones which had cracked screens fixed by third parties,” Byron Kaye reports for Reuters.

“The U.S. technology giant ‘bricked’ – or disabled with a software update – hundreds of smartphones and tablet devices, and then refused to unlock them on the grounds that customers had had the devices serviced by non-Apple repairers, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said in a court filing,” Kaye reports. “‘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.”

Kaye reports, “As well as fines, the ACCC said it was seeking injunctions, declarations, compliance program orders, corrective notices, and costs.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: Information about “Apple Products and Australian Consumer Law” is located here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “Road Warrior” for the heads up.]

42 Comments

    1. Apart from my finding this Aus law, as described, as ridiculous…

      I seriously doubt Apple will lose the case. It comes down the that constant called ‘personal responsibility‘. Apple or any other company on the planet is never responsible for choices made by the customer after sale and outside of the warranty.

      Then again, there is that loon level of socialism that finds personal responsibility to be too inconvenient. This is yet another reason why loon level socialism consistently face plants. Sane level socialism is loverly.

      1. The point I was making is that the laws of Australia are the final arbiter of this- not any legalese by Apple in a EULA or written warranty. The only exception would be if it were covered under a trade agreement between the US and Aus.

      2. The thing you are ignorantly missing is that 3rd parties fixed the phones AND THEY WORKED, then apple came along later and bricked them via software update. Now I know why it happened, and I know they had their reasons, but nevertheless it was a low act to brick existing phones without taking responsibility. Anybody who is not a complete dick can see that.

        1. Rubbish. I made my point. I have nothing to add and certainly sympathy for those who choose to break their Apple warranty. I couldn’t care less if you believe that’s ‘ignorant’ or being a ‘dick’. Consider learning personal responsibility of your actions and chastising others who don’t live up to their personal responsibility. It’s a core value of human survival, let alone worries about bricked iPhones.

  1. There’s a major difference between “should” and a hard-and-fast requirement. Besides that, the only reason to brick a device is if there is a reasonable suspicion that it has been stolen or lost, and that should be able to be undone by Apple upon proof of legitimacy.

    Apple needs to get out two things: first, a 2×4 to apply to the head(s) of the people who thought of doing this; second, their checkbook to compensate those hurt by it.

    1. See my comment below. There is no evidence that these phones were deliberately disabled by Apple, as opposed to being caught in a side-effect from a software upgrade. Apple cannot be expected to debug its upgrades on user-modified equipment.

      1. Let me clarify: It was not the substance of the upgrade that bricked the phones. It was the upgrade process, which checks to make sure that the secure enclave is still secure. Allowing users to revert to an earlier version would not have fixed the issue, because the installation process has been the same for every software version that will run on a device with the enclave.

        The alternative is for the installation NOT to check whether the security system has been disabled. My guess is that consumers (and probably the Australian authorities) would be annoyed if iPhones were not secure. That really would be a breach of the statutory requirement that the device be fit for its intended purpose = secure communications.

        1. But the enclave was NEVER fully secure up until that update. If the burglars are already in the house, kinda too late huh? What they should have done is popped up a warning “This phone is not secure, take to Apple store”, and maybe the NEXT release completely disabled. And when you took it to Apple, get a free fix, since Apple was intending to brick a working phone.

  2. The only way to damage another person’s device is with the other person’s permission. That’s the biggest problem with Apple, being the world’s largest IT department, they think they still own it after they sold it to you.

      1. This case is not the only reason for my statement. But let’s go with laws of physics…
        They implemented a change to other’s property and devices that used to work, no longer work. Can the customer revert? Probably not.

        1. The problem with your statement is the assumption that the observation of working vs working as designed, are two different things. These phones weren’t working as designed. Think about the transmission with sawdust. Does it work? Yes Is it a legitimate repair? No

          Replacing the screen with a button that presses and unlocks the phone is not the end of the repair. The Touch ID also needs to be signed and registered with the phone. No doing so, results in. A bricked phone at some point in the future.

      2. Apple did not change somebody else’s property. The owner broke the screen and then chose to have it fixed by someone who did not know how to do so without bricking the phone at the next software update. As a result, the device that used to work no longer does. Again, why should Apple pay to fix it?

          1. Or… put it to you this way….They should know, and have tested for this scenario since they specifically put it in place and not allowed the update to proceed citing adulteration. Otherwise it’s negligence.

          2. The problem only occurs when the security system on the iPhone has been tampered with (whether by an identity thief or by a screen repair that alters the ID of the touch sensor). Under those circumstances, there is no longer any assurance that the device is safe to use for its intended purpose, namely secure communications. Having the phone stop working under those circumstances is not a bug, but a feature.

            Apple’s PR problem is that the Error 53 problem should have disabled the phone immediately, so it would be clear that the amateur repairman was at fault. Instead, the security check is made during the installation process for a new OS, making it appear that the upgrade was at fault. Clearly, neither the Australian authorities nor many posters here understand that the party who failed to deliver as promised is the third-party repair shop, not Apple.

            If the shade-tree mechanic who fixed the screen without maintaining the integrity of the secure enclave could just roll the phone back to an earlier iOS version to bypass that security feature, so could any thief or hacker who has physical possession of the device.

            1. I have no problem with the user having forfeited secure communications, due to actions of their own accord, on their own property. A change was implemented by Apple to another person’s device with unintended consequences for the owner of the device. As our mother’s all told us, “Put. it. back, where you found it”!

          1. For the last time, Apple did not brick these phones remotely. The phones bricked themselves locally when the person in possession attempted a software upgrade while the secure enclave was in an insecure condition. That is a security feature to prevent thieves from disabling the enclave and continuing to use the phone. Yes, it should have been triggered by the first start-up after the faulty repair, and not the next upgrade, but either way, the owner would have had an inoperable phone due to a faulty repair, not a defect in Apple’s hardware or software.

            It is not Apple’s job to instruct third parties on the consequences of making bad repairs. If they can’t predict those consequences on their own, perhaps they should either (a) become authorized repair techs, or (b) stop “repairing” phones when they aren’t sure of the consequences.

  3. I don’t practice law in Australia, but my guess is that even their national law does not override the laws of physics. Quite obviously, Apple did not deliberately brick iPhones because they had repairs performed by an unauthorized shop.

    The third-party screen repair did something that altered the devices from their factory condition (probably by disturbing the connection between the fingerprint sensor and the secure enclave). The next software upgrade was aimed at unmodified phones and did not work properly on one that had been altered. The consumer then asked Apple to fix the problem they had created for themselves.

    Analogy: Consumer has a third-party shop work on their automobile brakes. When they malfunction, the owner brings the car to a dealership and expects to get the repairs for the third-party damage done for free under the original warranty. I think not. Almost certainly not in Texas, and I doubt in Australia.

    Yes, I agree that it is a problem that Apple is so restrictive about who is allowed to qualify as an authorized repair facility. That is a particular problem in a thinly-populated area like Australia or the American West. However, the appropriate remedy is surely not to allow shade-tree mechanics the freedom to screw up Apple devices with the certainty that Apple can be forced to fix the resulting damages.

    1. Hey TxUser, you’d be surprised how the laws of physics are viewed down under to the point where they have some of their own laws of physics, and history. Some of my favorites:

      – The shortest distance between two points will have a barricade or detour.
      – There is no difference between the front and back brakes on a bicycle. I had a whole store of staff trying to convince me of this. In the regular world, there is a difference as the weight is behind the front brake and in front of the back brake.
      – More of a historical revision but I’ve never been able to convince anyone there that Halloween is actually a holiday originating over in England and Ireland. The holiday over there is used to bash and hate those from Apple’s home nation.

      They have very different views over there, believe me.

      1. Are, the simple way to view life and people – to generalise with a healthy dose of ignorance. What happen roadie, did a girl from Australia dump you not long after realising how much of a fool you really are?Your points are ridiculous to the point of laughable.

        I once traveled across America about 10 years ago for a few fun months, and the group of Aussies I was with had a great time fooling many locals into thinking (or confirming in a lot of cases!) that school kids in Australia ride kangaroos to school. Therefore, all Americans believe this to be the case as per generalising. You see how that works?

        It’s funny – for someone who seems to have a strong dislike or cynicism towards Australia, you certainly spent a lot of time dwelling on and mentioning them. Banal and quite pathetic.

        Incidentally, it’s funny how your username is the same as one of Australia’s most popular and iconic movies: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. LOL!!!

    2. It might not have been Apple’s primary goal in the software update, but it certainly was deliberate. Glad that nobody was killed in not being able to access emergency services from a suddenly bricked phone.

  4. Aust., GB, NZ, the US, and Canada freely exchange spy data and at least the US’s NSA or the CIA intercepts electronic gadgets to install back doors. The CIA calls one such program “Fight Club.” It’s quite easy to pay off a low wage worker or, alternately, issue a National Security Letter compelling that person.

    It’s possible that the unauthorized repair shop installed a back door and the update simply fixed it, the drama being played out of the public eye but this overzealous investigator is inadvertantly mucking things up.

  5. DavGreg is right that national law overrides puts in their warranties.

    I refer MDN’s readers to the ACCC’s website for the full text of their proceedings and the link is:

    https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/accc-takes-action-against-apple-over-alleged-misleading-consumer-guarantee-representations

    Another link from the Sydney Morning Herald is much more succinct in their interpretation of the ACCC’s action against Apple which is:

    http://www.smh.com.au/business/consumer-affairs/iphone-error-53-accc-takes-apple-to-court-over-allegations-of-misleading-and-deceptive-behaviour-20170406-gves8o.html

    It should also be noted the Australian consumer law is entirely different than American law and provides much stronger protection for Australian consumers.

    Underscoring what DavGreg has said in 2013 the ACCC proved that Apple warranties were inconsistent with Australian consumer law that the latter took precedence over the former.

    See:

    http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/apple-forced-to-adopt-new-refund-policy-under-australian-consumer-law-20131218-2zkkr.html

    On a personal level in January last year I attempted to fire up my brand new 27 inch iMac and it fried one of my (new) Other World Computing RAM modules. I then contacted the distributor and they sent me out another one and the same thing happened.

    Next I contacted Apple and initially they refused to accept responsibility and accused me of:

    Not using Apple RAM and thus voiding the warranty and then putting the modules in crossways. After that they alleged that I put the RAM in back the front.

    I explained that I’d been using Apple computers since 1992 and had put RAM in various Macs for over twenty years and had never had this problem.

    Eventually, Apple relented after I politely advised them of their statutory obligations under Australian consumer law and that they had to provide me with a perfectly functioning computer (via repair or replacement), or provide me with a complete refund in which case I would have gone out and bought another iMac.

    They then sent out a repairman and replaced the logic board which was faulty. The computer was a one in a million lemon.

    I then contacted the New South Wales equivalent of the ACCC (Office of Fair Trading) and they informed me that as I was out of pocket for the destruction of the OWC RAM via a fault in the computer I had thus suffered a financial loss and Apple had to reimburse for the loss.

    At first Apple refused the refund as I had used non Apple RAM. They then relented and said I could buy the equivalent in goods from their website and I again asked for a refund. Again I had to inform Apple of my statutory rights under the law and then I was finally reimbursed for the cost of the RAM.

    The moral of the story is that each case stands on it’s own merits and whilst you may disagree with consumer law in Australia, it is an entirely different beast than it’s American equivalent.

    1. I don’t disagree with Australian consumer law. I disagree with its application to the facts of this case. I read your links. The Government is insisting that Apple is responsible for repairing defects in its devices. Of course it is, and would be in America as well as Australia. So what?

      The problem here is not that the device was defective, but that the repair was defective. Instead of going back to Apple for the original screen repair, the consumer chose someone who might not–and, by the evidence, did not–know what they were doing. As a result, the device died (temporarily) with its next software upgrade. If the consumer had gone to an authorized repairer who knew what he was doing, the Error 53 problem would never have occurred.

      Now, instead of pursuing the third-party shops for selling defective repairs, the Government is pursuing Apple for selling a perfectly functional device that the repair shop subsequently modified so that it would no longer function as designed.

      If I throw my phone on a pavement and stamp on it, it probably will not work, but that is not the result of a defect in the device. I doubt that Apple would have to pay for a replacement, even in Australia.

      Again, I can sympathize with the consumers. It is hard to find an authorized repair shop even in large parts of America. Someone might quite reasonably have chosen to get a quick fix for a cracked screen locally, rather than ship their phone hundreds of kilometers to an authorized shop for a guaranteed repair. Nothing Apple did prevented them from making that choice.

      However, the reason that some shops are authorized while others are not is that Apple can control what happens in an authorized shop. It can assure that the workers are properly trained and the parts are up to original specifications. It is simply unreasonable to expect Apple to warrant repair work performed by unknown third-party shops.

      That is what the Australian Government is trying to force here. It has absolutely nothing to do with Apple selling devices that are defective and refusing to correct the defects. When the press release claims otherwise, it is misinformed.

        1. By your logic, a shop that breaks your transmission should only be liable if you can’t drive the car to the street. “Hey, man, your brakes worked fine until you had to stop!”

          Of course the repair was defective at the time it was done. Before the repair, the existing or a new OS could be installed. After the repair, doing that inevitable normal task rendered the phone inoperable. “Hey, man, your iPhone works fine, except you can’t make phone calls without bricking the device. If it stops working then, blame it on Apple.”

  6. From my reading from the ACCC’s website they became bricked after they applied an Apple update.

    Also it is not the Australian government doing anything here rather the ACCC is a statutory authority and pursues a case if it believes there is a prima facie evidence that enables it to launch legal action according to the legislative area that it covers. These laws are supported by the conservative and labor parties in this country. Governments, legislate and then create statutory authorities who enforce the law where necessary. They are independent of the government of the day in the cases that they pursue.

    Again, I said that each case stands on its own merits so irrespective of anyone’s views or biases we have to see how the it unfolds.

    What I do know about the ACCC is that they won’t initiate legal action unless they believe that that there is a some legal basis to pursue such action. They just don’t shoot from the hip.

    Also, Apple HAS run afoul of Australian consumer law before and I’ve had personal experience in this country that Apple will try to wriggle out of their legal obligations unless you really push them.

    As a long term Apple user my treatment left a really bad taste after I had to almost “extract teeth” from the company to enforce my legal rights. That’s the first time in 25 years of being an Apple user that I ever had any problems with them.

    1. Not to beat a dead horse, but I have no difficulty believing that the ACCC is correct on Australian law. My problem is that they are misinterpreting or misrepresenting the facts.

      The reason that these phones do not work as advertised is not that they were defective when delivered to the customer. It is because they subsequently became insecure, entirely due to something over which Apple had no control and the consumer had complete control.

      The only mistake Apple made is only checking the security of the enclave during an upgrade, and not more frequently. If the phones had stopped working immediately after the screen repair, it would be more obvious who is at fault, but the fault is not with Apple in either case.

      1. Nonsense. They didn’t become insecure, they always were insecure. Apple just upped their standards of what “secure” is. The fact is, the phones were always damned secure, there was just this little niggly exception that is nearly impossible to exploit which Apple suddenly got in their head to fix.

        1. Software upgrades on phones with a secure enclave and fingerprint sensor always checked the security of their connection. Apple did not “suddenly get it in their head to fix” the security hole from an insecure connection. I presume that the connection is not checked more frequently because it would substantially increase startup times, which is not a concern during an update.

          If you think that Apple should not worry about “little niggly exceptions” to system security, you might be happier with an Android device.

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