Why Is Apple Killing Customers' iPhones?

Over the weekend, you may have read reports about Apple "bricking" multiple iOS devices that had undergone third-party repairs. According to the Guardian, customers who elect to fix their damaged iPhones through unauthorised repair providers have been receiving an "Error 53" message which renders the device useless. Apple has since issued an official statement to address the mounting furore. Apparently, it's a deliberate "security feature". Should we be grabbing our pitchforks?

Initially thought to be a software bug, it turns out that Error 53 is a Touch ID security feature that works exactly as Apple intended. As explained over at Gizmodo:

[Apple's] Touch ID sensor is uniquely tied to the iOS device so that a thief couldn’t do something like snag your phone, replace the sensor and then have access to all the credit cards you’ve linked to Apple Pay.   iOS device repair companies are well aware of this feature and will actually manually move the Touch ID sensor from the broken glass face plate to the new face plate to make sure the phone stays functional.

In other words, Apple has been bricking iPhones when suspicious adjustments to the Touch ID sensor are detected. Some have accused Apple of deliberately punishing customers who decide not to go through Apple's official iPhone Repair store where screen replacements can cost up to $248.95.

However, Apple is sticking to its story, as evidenced by this official statement sent to Gizmodo:

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.

Whatever Apple's intentions, the upshot remains the same: repairing your iPhone through a third-party can turn the device into an expensive doorstop. While we usually advise against extended warranties, it's probably worth signing up to AppleCare+ and going through the official repair channels. Or buy an Android out of spite.

Additional reporting by Gizmodo.


Comments

    Of course they COULD simply decide to disable all the TouchID software elements, kind of like how Android disables Android Pay if your phone is detected as being rooted etc...

    But Apple... tsk tsk

    Without knowing the ins and outs, surely this would be ACCC territory - much like ye olde 'You must take your car to your car dealer to have it serviced or you void your warranty'.

      No. Literally anyone can repair your iPhone so long as they're certified and use legit parts. A piece of tech is nothing like a mechanical engine. You have drivers and certificates built into hardware that need to signed off and checked through code, you can just use random third-party tech and assume it'll still perform. Also exactly like cars, if you want to retain your warranty you need to see a certified repairer.

      ACCC.... Is that the same ACCC that brought us cheaper petrol by allowing Coles and Woolworths to destroy competition through shopper dockets?

    Apple already effectively brick older phones by arbitrarily withholding major patches unless they are attached to an OS upgrade that the device doesn't have enough to run. NB they offered no-strings patches to lower spec devices

      They also release iOS updates that then don't work properly on older phones, and by not offering a way to roll back to a previous iOS version try and force you to upgrade to a newer model.

    ...get your point, but my car won't start or even let me in if I get it repaired by a non-certified repairer / break my warranty.

    I understand the security concerns, but instead of bricking the device, why don't they just disable TouchID & ApplePay if it detects tampering?

    There does seem to be a lot of anger towards Apple over what seems a sensible thing for them to do - protect user data if hardware checks suggest something strange is going on.
    To me, the volume and ferocity of the critics seems inverse to the percentage of people this actually affects. Is it perhaps symptomatic of a growing realisation that buying into Apple's ecosystem isn't as wondrous as it seems?

      I think the issue was more that 'Error 53' was not disclosed until after the fact, and after repeated enquiry as to what that meant once it happened to a multitude of people. Good for security, yes (maybe overkill?), but it would be nice to know this would happen so one can make an informed choice as a buyer. I read an article recently (when I find it I'll try to edit this) that said if they had made this a feature it wouldn't be such a big deal, but because they hid it, were reluctant to explain it, then caved in, people feel cheated - and so they should!

    Well we all know apple has always tried to make their products a closed system. It is where they always lost me.

    Screen replacements cost $140 at Apple. It's not cheap but it isn't bad.

    Last edited 08/02/16 4:12 pm

    Thanks for the stupid click bait title Chris, nice to know you're not above such cheap tactics.

    Bricking a phone is not protecting data. The passcode can still be used to protect the data. Touch ID is subordinate to the passcode and can(should) be easy enough to switch off if a potential compromise is detected. You can turn Touch ID off yourself in the settings if you so wish. Well you could if your phone worked.

    Sorry, are they bricking the phone or just stopping Touch ID and Apple Pay?

      From what I've read, the phone is completely bricked and all information on the device is inaccessible.

    Wait, is my iPhone so poorly designed that the TouchID sensor stores all the fingerprint data? The claim by Apple seems to point towards that.

    Replacing a sensor should have ZERO impact on security, as it is just a sensor. It takes the "scan" of the print, then passes it on to the device that processes the data to confirm/deny a match. A changed sensor will just... "scan" the print, pass it on to the device that processes the data to confirm/deny a match.

      Yes, there's separate storage for a representation of the fingerprint.

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