Court action against Apple for allegedly misleading iPhone and iPad owners serves as a “timely reminder” to companies that consumer rights are inviolable, Australian consumer advocates have said.
Apple has so far remained silent about federal court action launched by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) this week.
The case stemmed from the ACCC’s investigation of the so-called “error 53” fault, which rendered thousands of iPads and iPhones useless after users downloaded the IOS 9 operating system in 2015 and 2016.
Apple allegedly told customers it would not honour warranties if devices had been repaired by a third party, even when the third-party repairs were unrelated to the fault.
For example, a customer who had a cracked screen repaired by someone other than Apple would not be entitled to a free replacement or service for other faults.
The ACCC says the advice constituted a breach of Australian consumer law.
In announcing court action, the watchdog’s chairman, Rod Sims, said Apple could not extinguish the right of consumers to a free remedy in such circumstances.
“Consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law exist independently of any manufacturer’s warranty and are not extinguished simply because a consumer has goods repaired by a third party,” Sims said.
“Denying a consumer their consumer guarantee rights simply because they had chosen a third party repairer not only impacts those consumers but can dissuade other customers from making informed choices about their repair options including where they may be offered at lower cost than the manufacturer,” he said.
Apple has not responded to requests for comment.
The head of media for the consumer group Choice, Tom Godfrey, said the case served as a reminder to consumers that their rights could not be taken away, regardless of what companies said.
“When a product is faulty or not fit for purpose, businesses can’t turn you away when you’re seeking a repair, replacement or a refund even if you’ve had a previous repair from a third party,” Godfrey said.
“The latest action against Apple is a timely reminder that regardless of what a company claims in their warranties, your basic consumer rights can’t be switched off.
“Although it’s a fairly common practice for companies to try to use warranties to lock you into their own repair networks, your consumer guarantee rights should give you the freedom to shop around for the best deal without fear of retribution.”
The ACCC’s federal court action seeks penalties and injunctions, among other remedies.
Consumer law means products must be of an acceptable quality, and must be reasonably fit for “any disclosed or represented purpose”. That entitles consumers to remedies, including a refund, replacement or repair, at no cost to them.