Why The ACCC Can’t Fix All Your Apple Issues

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) largely got the result it wanted when it took Apple to court over its ‘iPad 4G’ marketing, with the computer giant agreeing to modify the way it promotes the doesn’t-work-directly-with-any-4G-network-in-Australia device. But that doesn’t mean that every other complaint people have about Apple products is going to be championed by the consumer regulator.

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I was being interviewed by a radio station about the court case yesterday, and one of the questions I got asked was “Does the ACCC have any chance against such a big company?” As I pointed out, while being a large company might mean you can employ good lawyers, it doesn’t place you above the law. It’s very evident that Apple has often played fast and loose with its interpretation of consumer law in Australia; on this occasion, it clearly went a little too far.

While Apple’s agreeing to a court undertaking is a welcome development, it doesn’t mean that some of the other issues I highlighted in our roundup of how Apple shows contempt to Australian consumers will be resolved any time soon. In an ideal world, Apple wouldn’t falsely claim that you all app sales are final and no refunds will be offered or that it doesn’t have to offer assistance on non-Apple goods sold through the Apple store. But the law is clearly on the consumer’s side in this case, so if it happens to you, a lawyer shouldn’t be needed to resolve the issue.

The court win also doesn’t mean that some of the other issues which commenters mentioned will fall into the ACCC’s remit. In particular:

/”Even with a favourable exchange rate we still pay more than the Americans for an iPad made in China.”

/”What about iTunes music prices? I have a friend in the USA who recommended several songs which he claims was 99c there but was $1.69 in Aussie??!?”

The ACCC doesn’t get involved with general issues relating to pricing: companies are entitled to charge whatever they think consumers will pay, and consumers can choose whether or not to spend their money that way. The ACCC may intercede if it thinks competitors are colluding to keep prices artificially high, if component pricing is used to make good look artificially cheap or if firms falsely claim prices have risen due to taxes, but it doesn’t have the powers to tell companies to sell at a particular price.

In practice, there are cheaper options for buying the iPad than through Apple itself, and once you factor in sales taxes the pricing over here is not massively different to the US. Apple adjusted its app pricing in Australia to more closely reflect US prices last year, but music remains a different category — and one, for now, out of the reach of the regulator.

/”There is marketing in Australia that suggests that Siri can look up Australian businesses when it actually can’t at all.”

Hard to say with this one. The obvious defence is that Siri is in beta and that the lack of location searching is briefly mentioned by Apple (albeit in tiny print with the words “features may vary by area”). In practice, since it isn’t part of the name (unlike this week’s case), I’m not sure the ACCC would pursue it. But if you have purchased an iPhone 4S and feel you were misled, you can, like anyone, lodge a complaint with the ACCC.

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