Apple on Monday was slapped with a $6.6 million (AUS$9 million) fine by an Australian court after it was determined by a local consumer rights advocacy group that the Cupertino tech-giant’s response to the infamous ‘Error 53’ scandal of 2015-2016 was not only inconsistent with the company’s own policies, but also violated Australian consumer protection laws.
Previously, the Australian Competitor and Consumer Commission (ACCC) lodged a series of complaints on behalf of Apple consumers, which were centered around the Error 53 message. In case you need a refresher, Apple’s Error 53 fiasco materialized when some iPhone and iPad devices serviced by third-party repair shops became bricked after their owners attempted to download the newest iOS software update.
The ACCC determined that between February, 2015 and February, 2016, Apple knowingly misinformed “at least 275 Australian consumers” beset by the Error 53 messages that their iPhone or iPad is no longer eligible for a resolution if the device had been repaired by a third-party provider at some point in time.
“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,” said ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court of the group’s findings, noting that “Apple’s representations led customers to believe they’d be denied a remedy for their faulty device because they used a third party repairer.”
“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.”
Notably, the ACCC said, it was only after they contacted Apple in regards to the company’s Error 53 response that an official outreach program was implemented by Apple in order to justly compensate consumers whose iPhone or iPad became inoperable amid the Error 53 fiasco, noting that Apple extended roughly 5,000 offers of resolution to affected consumers in the country.
Another part of the ACCC’s findings was that Apple, in rectifying these issues, was found to be providing customers with refurbished iPhones or iPads as replacements, when Australian Consumer Law clearly dictates that the company must either provide brand-new replacements, or a full refund, in cases where one is requested by the consumer.
“If people buy an iPhone or iPad from Apple and it suffers a major failure, they are entitled to a refund. If customers would prefer a replacement, they are entitled to a new device as opposed to refurbished, if one is available,” Court’s statement added.
Ultimately, the Australian court maintained that the U.S.-based Apple, Inc. be held accountable for the “slop job” executed on Australian soil, saying in the statement that “Global companies must ensure their returns policies are compliant with the Australian Consumer Law, or they will face ACCC action.”
In response to the judgment, an Apple spokesperson alluded to “very productive conversations with the ACCC about this” in an emailed comment to Reuters, without delving into any other detail.