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Apple slapped with class action suit over Touch ID-related 'Error 53' code

Seattle-based law firm PCVA has decided to move forward with a class action lawsuit related to Apple's hardware repair practices, specifically targeting the "Error 53" code issue that renders iPhone unusable following an unauthorized Touch ID fingerprint sensor install.




Filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the pending suit alleges Apple has "gone too far" in its attempts to control the iPhone hardware platform, saying the "Error 53" message some users are seeing as a result of unauthorized repairs warrants redress.

Error 53 codes affect iPhone 6 and 6s handsets that have undergone Touch ID module — or in some cases screen, flex cable and water-damaged component — replacement by a repair firm operating outside of Apple's Authorized Service Provider network. Most users see the message after restoring a saved backup or updating to the latest iOS version.

In addition to being rendered unusable, iPhones showing Error 53 messages repaired through an unofficial dealer are no longer covered under Apple's warranty as they were, in effect, tampered with by an outside party.

Users have reported Error 53 codes from at least early 2015, but it wasn't until recently that the issue gained public notoriety. A media report last week suggested Apple was not only aware of the error message, but had software safeguards in place that "bricked" affected units to satisfy standard iOS security measures.

"We protect fingerprint data using a secure enclave, which is uniquely paired to the Touch ID sensor," an Apple representative said. "When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure."

For its part, Apple is attempting to protect highly sensitive biometric user data gathered by Touch ID and its supporting circuitry. By distributing certified parts through authorized repair agents Apple can control against potential security breaches built into unchecked parts.

The lawsuit rekindles an ongoing "right to repair" argument that has long plagued Apple. The company has in may cases made it nearly impossible for users to open, let alone repair, a device on their own. From generous application of adhesives to the introduction of proprietary pentalobe screws, Apple engineers its devices to thwart unauthorized repair efforts. Apple claims such steps are required to ensure its devices work as designed, allowing for a consistent user experience.

On behalf of its clients, PCVA seeks at least $5 million in damages and restitution for users affected by Error 53 codes, as well as the release of a software update that removes the imposed repair restriction from iOS.