Apple being taken to court for deceptive marketing by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) should come as no surprise. The company’s recent history in Australia is littered with examples of its disregard for Australian consumer law and, by extension, Australian consumers.
Picture by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
I’m not going to presume to predict what the Federal Court might decide on Wednesday morning when it rules on the ACCC’s application to make Apple spell out much more precisely that the iPad+4G can’t on its own access any service currently sold as 4G in Australia. What I can point out is that Apple has repeatedly ignored Australian consumer law in favour of its own idiosyncratic approach.
The standout example in my mind is Apple’s attempt in its sale conditions to argue that when it sells goods which aren’t manufactured by Apple itself through the Apple Store, it can tell consumers to seek remedies through the manufacturers rather than through Apple itself. In Australian legal terms, this is absolute rubbish. As the ACCC has made very clear, retailers can’t do this:
In most cases consumers are entitled to seek a remedy from the seller or service provider and businesses must honour these obligations.
Apple’s second strike comes with its claim that goods which aren’t covered by AppleCare aren’t necessarily covered at all. Again, this isn’t true. Apple can voluntarily extend warranties by offering additional services, but it doesn’t have the sole determination on when a product is out of warranty, as the ACCC has also made clear:
It is important to remember that regardless of any warranty a business chooses to offer, consumers still have rights under the consumer guarantees. The extra warranty does not alter or limit consumers’ rights under the guarantees, and businesses should be careful that their warranties do not mislead consumers about their rights.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that Apple resisted attempts by the ACCC to ensure that consumers who purchased a phone on 24-month contracts had warranty coverage throughout that period, an issue which was problematic since back in 2010. It wasn’t until January 2011 and harmonised consumer laws that the ACCC got a local carrier (Optus) to agree to offer 24-month warranties on contract iPhones. Given the dominance of contract iPhone sales prior to that point, it’s pretty hard to argue that Apple was going out of its way to help consumers.
Australians apparently believe that Apple is one of Australia’s most trustworthy brands. Its legal history suggests it could do much more to actually earn that trust. The law is the law. Selling a boatload of products doesn’t exempt your obligations in any way. Whatever the court decides on Wednesday, Apple doesn’t have a good record in this regard, and it should be working to improve it, not doing what it likes and dealing with the consequences later.
Update: Another example I forgot: Apple likes to claim that refunds are not available on app purchases, which isn’t true if the app doesn’t perform as described.