Last week, Apple came under fire for “bricking” iPhones that had undergone unauthorised, third-party repairs instead of going through the official iPhone Repair store. Now, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) is wading in to determine whether the so-called “Error 53” violates Australian consumer laws.
For those who missed last week’s story, Apple has begun targeting customers who elect to fix their damaged iPhones through unauthorised repair providers. According to Apple, this is a security feature designed to protect users when an iPhone’s Touch ID is detected to have been tampered with.
But to Apple’s critics, it’s a deliberate ploy to monopolise the phone repair market and “punish” users who refuse to go through the official channels.
In any event, the ACCC is now launching an investigation. The main point of contention is the lack of warning or redress offered to affected consumers, which may be a breach of the Competition and Consumer Act.
“In particular the ACCC is examining whether this practice contravenes the consumer guarantee and false and misleading representations provisions of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL),” the ACCC said in a statement. “The ACCC would also be concerned about any practices which restrict competition, including through access to parts or data.”
When the news blew up last week, Apple issued the following statement in a bid to set the record straight:
We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers. iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor in your iPhone or iPad correctly matches your device’s other components. If iOS finds a mismatch, the check fails and Touch ID, including for Apple Pay use, is disabled. This security measure is necessary to protect your device and prevent a fraudulent Touch ID sensor from being used. If a customer encounters Error 53, we encourage them to contact Apple Support.
Apple has since set up an Error 53 help page. Sadly, there isn’t much joy here for customers who used unauthorised repair providers — instead, you just get a link to pricing information for out-of-warranty repairs.
We’re not sure where we stand on this one. On the one hand, Apple’s security policy does make sense, as there’s no way for its software to know why a phone’s Touch ID has been tampered with. On the other hand, Apple handled this whole thing pretty abysmally: the “feature” was never properly explained prior to its deployment and no explanation was initially given to affected customers. In short, people have a right to feel ripped off.
We’ll be updating the story with future developments as they happen.