In a sting operation, Australia's watchdog says it has caught Apple staff repeatedly misleading iPhone customers about their rights to a free repair after last year's 'error 53' scandal.
'Error 53' was a warning that popped up after updating to iOS 9.0 on an iPhone that had seen its TouchID fingerprint sensor replaced by a third-party repair shop. The phones were then bricked as the operating system detected a mismatch between the sensor and the phone. This was an ongoing issue between late 2014 and early 2016. Apple later issued a fix, saying that it was intended to be a 'factory test' that wouldn't affect consumers.
The firm added that "Customers who paid for an out-of-warranty replacement of their device based on this issue should contact AppleCare about a reimbursement".
However, according to court documents that have been reported by The Guardian, the Australian authorities have accused Apple of wrongly telling customers that they weren't entitled to a free replacement or repair after receiving the error message. The case, set for trial in December, alleges that the same thing was said to customers even when the repair was not related to the fault.
Publically the company has kept quiet, but the documents show that Apple has denied the claims made by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), saying that its staff were not told to mislead customers.
However, the ACCC covertly called up all 13 of Apple's Australian retailers and posed as iPhone customers only to receive the same response every time.
“In each call, Apple Australia represented to the ACCC caller that no Apple entity ... was required to, or would, remedy the defective speaker at no cost under the [Australian consumer law] if the screen of the iPhone had been replaced by someone other than Apple Australia or an Apple-authorised service provider,” the ACCC’s court claim alleged.
In addition, Apple's website also allegedly mislead consumers. A message on the site read: "If the screen or any other part on your iPhone or iPad was replaced somewhere else, contact Apple Support about pricing information for out-of-warranty repairs.” Apple said that website was referring to the company's limited warranty which serves in addition to consumer statutory rights.
Apple had previously faced a court case in the US over 'error 53', but it was thrown out last year.
The allegations made by the ACCC are particularly damning for a company that prides itself on tailor made customer retail experiences. Should the court case's findings fall against Apple it could potentially trigger widespread scrutiny over the company and its activities not just in Australia but across the world.