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Australia fines Apple $6.7 million over misleading 'Error 53' repair practices

A court in Australia has fined the company for misleading iPhone and iPad owners over whether or not they were allowed to repair their devices.

Australia's ACCC



According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the ruling from Australia's Federal Court followed an action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a government regulator, over the infamous "Error 53" issue which disabled some iPads and iPhones subjected to unofficial repairs.

Apple was fined $9 million in Australian dollars, which translates to $6.68 million in American dollars. The ruling concludes an ACCC suit filed last April.

Error 53 codes first appeared on iPhone 6 series units in early 2015, but the issue gained public notoriety when media outlets reported the supposed glitch in early 2016. The ACCC lawsuit, which targeted codes resulting from screen repairs, specified an active case timeline between September 2014 and February 2016.

The glitch impacted hardware that had 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. Apple later acknowledged the issue, saying the error message was tied to Touch ID security.

Some customers had taken their devices to third party repair shops, and Apple has admitted that, in a 12-month period that ended in February 2016, at least 275 customers in Australia were told they could not have their devices repaired if it had previously been worked on by a third party. Apple launched an outreach program afterwards, which was offered to 5,000 consumers affected by Error 53.

"If a product is faulty, customers are legally entitled to a repair or a replacement under the Australian Consumer Law, and sometimes even a refund. Apple's representations led customers to believe they'd be denied a remedy for their faulty device because they used a third party repairer," ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said in a statement. "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."

It's not the first time the ACCC has tangled with Apple; in 2017, the commission denied the country's three largest banks permission to collectively bargain with Apple over participation in Apple Pay. Five years earlier the body leveled a $2.3 million fine for misleading consumers with iPad marketing promising 4G compatibility.