Apple has been fined €8 million by an Australian court for refusing to fix iPhones and iPads that had been previously repaired by a third party.
Australia’s consumer association sued Apple last year after it received complaints about ‘error 53’, which disabled some devices after a software update was downloaded.
Consumers sent their device to Apple, assuming the company would fix the problem. But some were denied assistance because independent repair shops had previously serviced their device.
“[The customers said] they were being refused a remedy of any kind by Apple on the basis that their device had had unauthorised repairs, and those repairs could be as minor as just having a cracked screen replaced on an iPhone or iPad, which all of us need to do from time to time,” Sarah Court said on behalf of the association.
Apple admitted it misled consumers after the Australian court found the company breached consumer law. The Australian consumer watchdog said Apple had contacted about 5,000 customers to compensate them for the error.
The move comes as consumer and environmental groups across the world have accused big tech companies of shortening the useful lifespan of electronic products in order to increase sales.
Apple itself is not new to this sort of allegations. In France, prosecutors are investigating whether the California-based company has deliberately slowed down some iPhone models through a software update coinciding with the release of a new model.
Market experts and campaigners argue that big tech companies are making it difficult or expensive for consumers and independent repairers to fix their products. This may involve making key components such as batteries, motors and displays difficult to replace and repair, or issuing software upgrades that may not be compatible with older models.
In many cases, consumers are forced to either send their goods back to the original manufacturer – something that can be more expensive and take more time – or buy new ones.
Campaigners have recently launched the RightToRepair campaign – see banner above.
Meanwhile, in Europe, policymakers are standing up for people’s ‘right to repair’.
Last month, the European Parliament voted in favour of measures to make consumer goods, including smartphones, longer lasting and more easily repairable by design. The European Commission and national authorities will now have to decide whether to take up the recommendations.
Carsten Wachholz of the European Environmental Bureau, an umbrella organisation running the ‘RightToRepair campaign’, told META last month:
“Europe’s ‘take-make-use-throw’ economy is costing consumers money and choking our environment.
We can’t trust companies to come up with voluntary solutions to improve repair when we know it’s more profitable for them to make products that can’t be fixed.
Instead, we want to create a more favourable market environment for smart and local repair solutions from which consumers can truly benefit.”