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Apple to pay $113M settlement over its iPhone 'batterygate' slowdowns

The settlement involves the 2017 revelation that Apple was purposely slowing older phones when their batteries began to degrade.

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Apple landed in hot water over its handling of users' batteries.

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Apple is paying $113 million to settle an investigation by 34 states and the District of Columbia over the company's practice of slowing down the performance of older iPhones when their batteries degrade. The practice wasn't announced by Apple but rather proved by internet sleuths. That led regulators and customers alike to criticize the company for not being forthcoming, particularly when asked about it in the past.

"Big Tech must stop manipulating consumers and tell them the whole truth about their practices and products," Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who helped lead the investigation, said in a statement. "I'm committed to holding these goliath technology companies to account if they conceal the truth from their users." Apple will pay Arizona in particular $5 million, with the rest split among other states. The Washington Post earlier reported the news.

In court filings, Apple said it had agreed to the settlement to resolve the investigation, but it added that "nothing contained herein may be taken as or construed to be an admission or concession of any violation of law, rule, or regulation, or of any other matter of fact or law, or of any liability or wrongdoing, all of which Apple expressly denies." 

"No part of this judgment, including its statements and commitments, shall constitute evidence of any liability, fault, or wrongdoing by Apple," the company said in the filings.

The news is the latest example of how big tech is coming under ever more scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers. Though the "batterygate" saga, as it's known, happened before larger tech scandals like Facebook's Cambridge Analytica data privacy and political elections scandal, the event marked a turning point for the iPhone maker. 

For years, Apple denied allegations that it purposely slowed down iPhones, but the conspiracy theory persisted, arguing that the tech giant made the handsets less usable to push people to upgrade -- a practice referred to as planned obsolesce. When Apple admitted it slowed down iPhones -- though for a different reason, it said -- the news drew attention from around the globe.

"Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices," Apple said in an initial statement on Dec. 20, 2017, as it faced mounting criticism. It explained that when older batteries can't supply enough power when phones are attempting more-complex tasks, like playing a video game, it slows the phone's chips down to a level the battery can perform at.

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Critics cried foul, and just over a week later, Apple formally apologized while insisting it acted in the best interest of customers. It also offered a $29 battery replacement for a limited time to anyone who asked, rather than charging the typical $79. And it added features to its iOS software that better explained how iPhone batteries work and gave people the choice to preserve battery life or push their phone's performance.

Shortly after apologizing over batterygate, Apple began including software features to be more transparent about how it handles batteries.

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"We have never -- and would never -- do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that," Apple said at the time. "We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize." 

Still, lawsuits and investigations followed. In March of this year, Apple agreed to pay up to $500 million to settle a class-action lawsuit, in which the company agreed to pay customers $25 per iPhone, with a minimum payout of $310 million. It covered current and former iPhone owners in the US who had an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus or SE running iOS 12.2.1 or later. It also covered the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus running iOS 11.2 or later before Dec. 21, 2017. 

At the time, Joseph Cotchett, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that "the settlement provides substantial relief to Apple consumers and, going forward, will help ensure that customers are fully informed when asked to update their products." Apple denied any wrongdoing.