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Apple slammed for Error 53 iPhone fiasco

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 10 February 2016
  2. Consumers
  3. 0 comments
Apple problems

Update: Apple has now apologised for the error and issued an update, meaning you can now fix your bricked iPhone by connecting it to iTunes via a Mac or PC. You can find out more here.

A security measure which can “brick” recent models of the iPhone may violate the consumer rights of iPhone owners, a barrister has warned.

News spread last year that some iPhone 6 users were encountering a mysterious “Error 53” after updating to iOS 9. The error was causing phones to become useless, with users unable to switch their phones on or access their data.

The error usually occurs when the iPhone’s Touch ID sensor is replaced by a third-party retailer, although there are reports of the error occurring without any such unsanctioned tinkering. The Touch ID sensor is part of the home button on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

The error started appearing for this reason with the iOS 9 update, but it afflicts devices that were fixed prior to this update – as a result, many people found that their phones had become unusable as soon as they updated.

There is seemingly no cure for Error 53 without taking it to an Apple store to be repaired. In almost all cases, users have had to shell out for replacement phones.

There was much speculation about the error, with many believing it to be an obscure glitch. After the story hit the headlines, however, Apple released a statement saying that Error 53 was a deliberate feature, designed to safeguard iPhone users from having their data stolen.

“We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers,” said a spokesperson. “iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor in your iPhone or iPad correctly matches your device’s other components.

“If iOS finds a mismatch, the check fails and Touch ID, including for Apple Pay use, is disabled. This security measure is necessary to protect your device and prevent a fraudulent Touch ID sensor from being used.

“If a customer encounters Error 53, we encourage them to contact Apple Support.”

Customers are App-oplectic

Many have poured scorn on this explanation, accusing Apple of forcing iPhone owners to get their devices fixed at official Apple stores, rather than at (usually much cheaper) third-party phone stores.

As US law firm PCVA put it: “Let’s say you bought a car, and had your alternator replaced by a local mechanic. Under Apple’s strategy, your car would no longer start because you didn’t bring it to an official dealership. They intentionally disable your car because you tried to fix it yourself.”

Apple’s explanation is also of little comfort to the many iPhone users who live in countries without any Apple stores (not to mention those in the UK who might face a drive of an hour or more to find their nearest store).

Apple have also come under fire for their lack of communication over the issue – error 53 has been perplexing iPhone users as far back as 2014, but it was only last week that Apple deigned to give any explanation.

According to this account from last April, Error 53 was so mysterious that even Apple store staff apparently had no idea what it meant.

Even if iPhone users thought the policy was unfair or unreasonable, they would likely have been far more accepting of the security measure if they had known about it before they took their phone to get fixed by a third-party.

What legal action could Apple face?

The aforementioned PCVA law firm has been quick off the mark, signalling their intention to bring a class action lawsuit against the phone and tablet-slinging giant. The law firm believe Apple’s approach contravenes US consumer protection laws.

On our own fair shores, Apple may have failed to comply with the consumer protection afforded under the Sales of Goods Act 1979.

“It is hard to see how something which ceases to work in this way could be said to be of reasonable quality, one of the determinants of which is durability,” barrister Richard Colbey told the Guardian.

He even suggested that Apple’s security measure may have broken the law.

“[The Criminal Damage Act 1971] states: ‘A person who without lawful excuse destroys or damages any property belonging to another intending to destroy or damage any such property or being reckless as to whether any such property would be destroyed or damaged shall be guilty of an offence’.”

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