Apple fined $6.6M in Australia after Error 53 controversy

One undercover investigation and a year of court proceedings later, Australia takes an AU$9 million bite out of Apple.

Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
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The time has come for Apple to pay for the infamous Error 53 that bricked iPhones and iPads taken to a third party for repairs.

The Federal Court of Australia announced Monday its order for Apple to pay AU$9 million (around US $6.6 million converted) for telling customers who encountered the error they weren't entitled to a refund.

The error was first reported in 2016. If you fixed a cracked screen or a failing Touch ID-enabled home button through a third party not licensed by Apple, "security checks" would render your iPhone or iPad unusable, showing only the message "Error 53".

Apple explained the message as a security measure to protect the iPhone's fingerprint sensor from exploitation. It released an iOS 9.2.1 update later that February to restore bricked devices, but reports showed it did not re-enable Touch ID and customers complained they still lost photos, documents and apps.

Watch this: Outcry over iPhone 'Error 53' and bad USB Type-C cables

In April 2017, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) commenced a legal battle with Apple in the Federal Court of Australia. It said Apple violated customers' rights under Australian Consumer Law to repairs for devices bricked by Error 53.

Then, in June 2017, the ACCC conducted an undercover operation involving 13 calls with Apple retailers in Australia, in which Apple representatives allegedly said Apple did not have responsibility to remedy faulty iPhones repaired by an unauthorised third party.

Apple has since admitted that from February 2015 to February 2016 it misdirected 275 Australian customers looking for compensation for devices bricked by Error 53, through its US website and Apple staff in Australian stores and on customer service phone calls.

According to Australian Consumer Law, that's not on.

"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," ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

The ACCC had notified Apple about its investigation, spurring Apple to compensate 5,000 affected customers. That allegedly involved Apple exchanging faulty iPhones and iPads for refurbished replacements, not completely new devices. Apple has since committed to new replacements -- if you request one.

"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 said.

Expect your Apple store workers to wear even bigger smiles: Apple says it will improve staff training, systems and procedures to ensure future compliance with Australian Consumer Law.

"We're constantly looking for ways to enhance the service we deliver and we had very productive conversations with the ACCC about this," an Apple spokesman said. "We will continue to do all we can to deliver excellent service to all of our customers in Australia."

Update, 4:39 a.m. PT: Adds Apple spokesman comment.

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