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article imageApple faces lawsuit over 'Error 53' iPhone bricking scandal

By James Walker     Apr 6, 2017 in Technology
Apple has been sued by Australia's consumer watchdog for allegedly deliberately bricking iPhones which had received screen repairs completed by third party repair shops. Affected devices were left displaying the infamous "Error 53" warning indefinitely.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is now seeking injunctions, declarations and costs against Apple after filing a lawsuit on the case yesterday. As Reuters reports, the court filing describes how Apple allegedly breached Australian law by "bricking" phones with a software update.
The Error 53 controversy started a year ago when many iPhone 6 and 6s owners found their repaired handsets unusable after installing a software update. Replacing the home button triggered a security mechanism in iOS that prevented the phones from booting. Because screen repairs commonly involve modifying the button, customers were left with bricked phones if they'd previously had a cracked display replaced.
The change was delivered silently in an over-the-air software update. After facing a barrage of criticism for suddenly disabling users' phones, Apple later backtracked and explained the cause of the Error 53 message. Last February, it said the warning "wasn't intended to affect customers" and announced that it would allow affected owners to recover their phones through iTunes.
This step hasn't impacted on the case now presented to Apple. ACCC chairman Rod Sims noted that Apple shouldn't have the right to abruptly disable a user's phone for using a third-party repair shop. Before the company conceded to the press coverage of the issue, Apple told customers to approach it for help but noted it would not provide a "remedy" for free.
"Consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law exist independently of any manufacturer's warranty and are not extinguished simply because a consumer has goods repaired by a third party," Sims said to Reuters.
The court documents describe Apple's activities as "misleading" and "deceptive," intentionally seeking to hide the purpose of the software update from customers. If the lawsuit is successful, Apple could be required to pay penalties of up to A$1.1 million ($829,000 USD) per breach of Australian consumer law. The court will determine how many breaches occurred.
Apple has previously seen off an Error 53-based case. Last year, a U.S. district judge dismissed a class action lawsuit against the company, saying there was insufficient evidence from the plaintiffs to support their allegations of Apple's false advertising. The company refunded the customers involved the cost of their devices.
Error 53 was killed off in February 2016 when Apple released a patch for iOS to disable the warning. The security check was originally used in iPhone factories to confirm the Touch ID sensors fitted on the production line function correctly. Instructions on how to recover phones affected by the message are available on Apple's website.
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