Australian court fines Apple A$9m over ‘Error 53’ controversy

19 Jun 2018

Apple store exterior. Image: sylv1rob1/Shutterstock

Apple has to fork out millions after an Australian consumer body filed a lawsuit against the company.

Apple must pay A$9m in penalties for telling Australian customers who encountered a certain bug dubbed ‘Error 53’ that they weren’t entitled to a refund.

The fault was first reported in 2016. If a cracked screen or a failing Touch ID-enabled home button was fixed through a third party, your iPhone or iPad would be rendered unusable, displaying the message ‘Error 53’.

What was Error 53?

Apple described the error message as a security measure to protect the iPhone’s fingerprint sensor from being exploited. An update was released in February 2016 for iOS-restored bricked devices, but reports found that Touch ID was not re-enabled and customers still said photos, apps and important documents were not recovered.

Under Australian consumer law, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) began legal proceedings against Apple in the federal court of Australia. An undercover operation was also undertaken by the ACCC in June 2017, whereby Apple representatives were found to have said the firm didn’t bear the responsibility to fix faulty devices previously repaired by a third party.

“If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund. Apple’s representations led customers to believe they’d be denied a remedy for their faulty device because they used a third-party repairer,” ACCC commissioner Sarah Court said.

“The court declared the mere fact that an iPhone or iPad had been repaired by someone other than Apple did not, and could not, result in the consumer guarantees ceasing to apply, or the consumer’s right to a remedy being extinguished.”

A widespread issue

The ACCC identified at least 275 individual customers who had been affected, but Sarah Court said the issue was “fairly widespread”. She explained that the same assertions about repairs were made on the company’s website, which means other international customers may have also been impacted.

An Apple spokesperson said: “We’re constantly looking for ways to enhance the service we deliver and we had very productive conversations with the ACCC about this.

“We will continue to do all we can to deliver excellent service to all of our customers in Australia.”

The tech giant also offered a court-enforceable undertaking to not repeat this type of conduct in the future, along with payment of the hefty fine.

Apple store exterior. Image: sylv1rob1/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects