Apple sued by Australian regulator over 'Error 53' glitch, hardware repair practices

Posted:
in General Discussion edited April 2017
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on Thursday local time filed a federal lawsuit against Apple for allegedly disabling iPhone and iPad hardware repaired by unauthorized third parties.




Lodged with Australia's Federal Court, the ACCC's action takes aim at an Apple iOS software update that led to so-called "Error 53" messages on consumer iPhones and iPads.

The suit claims Apple rendered inoperable hundreds of smartphones and tablets with a software update last February. Though users presented with Error 53 messages were subsequently locked out of their device, Apple refused to service defective units as they had undergone screen or Touch ID module repairs by an unauthorized repair facility, the ACCC alleges.

Apple's actions fall afoul of Australian Consumer Law, under which consumers are entitled to certain free product guarantees.

"Consumer guarantee rights under the Australian Consumer Law exist independently of any manufacturers warranty and are not extinguished simply because a consumer has goods repaired by a third party," ACCC Chairman Rod 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."

Error 53 codes began popping up on user iPhone 6 series units from at least early 2015, but the issue gained public notoriety when media outlets reported the supposed glitch in early 2016. The ACCC action pegs the effective Error 53 timeline as taking place between September 2014 and February 2016.

As previously reported, the error codes impacted iOS 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. Screen repairs are at the heart of the Australian suit.

Apple later acknowledged the issue, saying the error message was tied to Touch ID security.

"We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers," the company said at the time.

As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled.

In addition to being rendered inoperable, iPhones that showed Error 53 messages were no longer eligible for Apple warranty coverage as they were repaired by an unauthorized third party.

Apple was slapped with a class action lawsuit in the U.S. just days after news of the error message hit. The lawsuit, which similarly targeted Apple's hardware repair practices, was ultimately thrown out for lack of standing.

The ACCC is seeking penalties, injunctions, declarations, compliance program orders, corrective notices and costs in its action against Apple.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    I'd argue that Error 53 is the result of a faulty repair by a 3rd party - since those 3rd parties offered a service which they couldn't reasonably complete.

    It seems reasonable to me that a free warranty wouldn't apply for two reasons: the screen repair isn't covered by a free warranty and repairing 3rd party works is also not covered under warranty. (Additionally repair of the device is problematic without the original TouchID sensor.)

    Error 53 was the result of sub-par repairs, not a fault in apple's hardware or software.

    -- To provide a little more context the devices were represented to Apple as 3rd party repaired devices and ACCC's complaint is that that Apple do not have the right to refuse warranty based *solely* on the device receiving 3rd party repairs. My point of view here is that these were not 3rd party "repairs", since the "repair" did not address the built-in security features of the device, thus Apple would actually have the right to refuse warranty. In short, just because these unfortunate people paid a technician to break their device doesn't mean that Apple should be obligated to a FOC repair.
    edited April 2017 SoliMikeymikeSpamSandwichanton zuykovchialkruppjbdragongilly017
  • Reply 2 of 35
    anomeanome Posts: 1,279member

    It will be interesting to see where this goes. I'm on Apple's side here, for the most part, in that it might set a precedent for manufacturers to honour warranties on third party repairs.

    I suppose one issue might be whether they were clear that this might happen if it were repaired by a third party prior to the update that caused the errors. Or even whether they could reasonably be expected to know this would happen.

    This is completely separate from the other issues re: Apple Pay that the ACCC are looking in to, and should have no effect on any decision they make about that.

  • Reply 3 of 35
    lerxtlerxt Posts: 185member
    Good for the ACCC. Apple can't win this as what they did clearly breeches consumer law. This is nothing to do with the quality of repairs, it is everything to do with the rights of a consumer in Australia. 
    superkloton[Deleted User]
  • Reply 4 of 35
    djsherlydjsherly Posts: 1,020member

    As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled.
    Except that's not what happened - the whole device is rendered inoperable not just the faulty bit.

    There's no free warranty being discussed here, it's a consumer guarantee - or rights that you have a consumer - that can't be taken away. 

    If Apple are refusing to service a iphone's headphone port because the screen has been replaced, then that is not allowed as they're unrelated things. If Apple refuse to service a faulty screen which was replaced by a third party, they should be well within their rights to refused to repair that component.

    Strikes me the error 53 was due to faulty workmanship or not understanding how to repair the defect, so it's not really clear why Apple would be in trouble here. 

    on the other hand, our law is quite clear that you're not forced to go back to a seller for service or maintenance. You can have your car serviced with anyone as long as it's done to the standard prescribed in the service manual.


    steveau
  • Reply 5 of 35
    anton zuykovanton zuykov Posts: 1,039member
    lerxt said:
    Good for the ACCC. Apple can't win this as what they did clearly breeches consumer law
    How so? Did the update break iPhones that were properly serviced? No. So, in other words, the difference between those phones that have "Error 53" and those who do not have that error message is in whether an unauthorized third party performed servicing of the devices or not. 
    No, lets say information gets leaks or stolen as a result of improper servicing by unauth-ed vendors, who will you blame for that? Apple, of course.
    edited April 2017 magman1979Grimzahnbloggerblogwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 35
    anton zuykovanton zuykov Posts: 1,039member

    djsherly said:
    You can have your car serviced with anyone as long as it's done to the standard prescribed in the service manual.
    Which is called - authorized repair center, because in the case of cars, you can't just get that manual for free. You have to pay Toyota or whatever company you think about, to give you access to their system with blueprints, schematics and other stuff, in order to properly service a car. On top of that, you also need to have a bunch of special (and very pricy) tools. You can refuse to buy those tools and do everything with a screwdriver, but it would be very easy for that manufacture NOT to honor the warranty based on improperly serviced/damaged components. 
    edited April 2017 magman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 35
    kevin keekevin kee Posts: 1,041member
    lerxt said:
    Good for the ACCC. Apple can't win this as what they did clearly breeches consumer law. This is nothing to do with the quality of repairs, it is everything to do with the rights of a consumer in Australia. 
    I see the opposite. As someone already mentioned here, Error 53 is purely fair since it's related to unauthorised repair of touch ID. You wouldn't want a 3rd vendor to 'repair' your passport (as a form of ID), would you?
    gilly017watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 35
    djsherly said:

    As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled

    on the other hand, our law is quite clear that you're not forced to go back to a seller for service or maintenance. You can have your car serviced with anyone as long as it's done to the standard prescribed in the service manual.



    "the standard described in the service manual"

    Not true at all. Automotive manufacturers lay out specific requirements for repairs. Simple ones would be the type of oil your engine needs. More complex ones would be the proper torque sequence for cylinder head bolts. One is in your manual, the other isn't yet both are valid.

    Manfacturers are allowed to set their own standards for repairs. Repairs not done to these standards can void your warranty (on the specific component, not the entire vehicle). You put the wrong oil in your engine and it seizes you're not getting it replaced under warranty. The rest of your vehicle is still covered.

    The only thing I can see Apple having to do is provide a list of standards for repairs so third party shops know "the torque sequence for a cylinder head" or "screens replaced without transferring the Touch ID sensor over will render it inoperative".
    Solifotoformatgilly017
  • Reply 9 of 35
    John_20John_20 Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    Sorry guys, you really need to understand both Australian consumer law and what the issue really was. The two points at issue are the third party repair and the Error 53 and what caused it. As I understand it Australian consumer law allows repairs to be carried out by any qualified person, and that qualification is not limited to those the manufacturer deems as qualified. So in effect any qualified technician should be able to carry out a repair and not invalidate the warranty. The error 53 was as a result of the secure keys not matching in the OS and the FP reader. The fix takes about 30 seconds and simply reverifies the keys to enable secure comms between the sensor and the OS. In effect Apple was penalising people for not getting the phone repaired by Apple. What the ACCC is contending that this was unreasonable and indeed violated Australian consumer law. I suspect that the ACCC will succeed.
    superklotondjsherlysupadav03gatorguy
  • Reply 10 of 35
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,626member
    John_20 said:
    Sorry guys, you really need to understand both Australian consumer law and what the issue really was. The two points at issue are the third party repair and the Error 53 and what caused it. As I understand it Australian consumer law allows repairs to be carried out by any qualified person, and that qualification is not limited to those the manufacturer deems as qualified. So in effect any qualified technician should be able to carry out a repair and not invalidate the warranty. The error 53 was as a result of the secure keys not matching in the OS and the FP reader. The fix takes about 30 seconds and simply reverifies the keys to enable secure comms between the sensor and the OS. In effect Apple was penalising people for not getting the phone repaired by Apple. What the ACCC is contending that this was unreasonable and indeed violated Australian consumer law. I suspect that the ACCC will succeed.
    So in this case, what is a 'qualified person'?

    As far as I understand it, you don't need to have the phone repaired by Apple, so it seems the law is really saying that anyone should be allowed to tamper with the phone whether they are qualified or not. Correct?
    jdgaz
  • Reply 11 of 35
    wonkothesanewonkothesane Posts: 1,371member
    John_20 said:
    Sorry guys, you really need to understand both Australian consumer law and what the issue really was. The two points at issue are the third party repair and the Error 53 and what caused it. As I understand it Australian consumer law allows repairs to be carried out by any qualified person, and that qualification is not limited to those the manufacturer deems as qualified. So in effect any qualified technician should be able to carry out a repair and not invalidate the warranty. The error 53 was as a result of the secure keys not matching in the OS and the FP reader. The fix takes about 30 seconds and simply reverifies the keys to enable secure comms between the sensor and the OS. In effect Apple was penalising people for not getting the phone repaired by Apple. What the ACCC is contending that this was unreasonable and indeed violated Australian consumer law. I suspect that the ACCC will succeed.
    If the fix is so easy this apply, why wouldn't a "qualified" technician be able to conduct it? Is the issue related to specific technicians or specific phone/iOS versions?
  • Reply 12 of 35
    djsherlydjsherly Posts: 1,020member
    djsherly said:

    As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled

    on the other hand, our law is quite clear that you're not forced to go back to a seller for service or maintenance. You can have your car serviced with anyone as long as it's done to the standard prescribed in the service manual.



    "the standard described in the service manual"

    Not true at all. Automotive manufacturers lay out specific requirements for repairs. Simple ones would be the type of oil your engine needs. More complex ones would be the proper torque sequence for cylinder head bolts. One is in your manual, the other isn't yet both are valid.

    Manfacturers are allowed to set their own standards for repairs. Repairs not done to these standards can void your warranty (on the specific component, not the entire vehicle). You put the wrong oil in your engine and it seizes you're not getting it replaced under warranty. The rest of your vehicle is still covered.

    The only thing I can see Apple having to do is provide a list of standards for repairs so third party shops know "the torque sequence for a cylinder head" or "screens replaced without transferring the Touch ID sensor over will render it inoperative".
    To be honest, I don't see where you're in disagreement. By "anyone" I do mean a licensed mechanic.

    "Any suggestion by car manufacturers or dealers that motor vehicles need to be serviced at a licensed dealer to maintain the owner's consumer guarantee rights is not correct."

    https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Motor vehicle sales & repairs - an industry guide to the Austalian Consumer Law.DOC

    There is a separation here about the warranty that is offered by the seller of a product and the consumer guarantees which cannot be traded away. Your consumer guarantees clearly state you are not required to seek repair from the manufacturer of an item. Doing so may void your manufacturer warranty, but will not necessarily erode your consumer guarantee. It's as simple as that.



  • Reply 13 of 35
    metrixmetrix Posts: 250member
    Why would Apple care about hundreds of anything, there is no improper motivation whatsoever. 
  • Reply 14 of 35
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,626member
    djsherly said:

    As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled.
    Except that's not what happened - the whole device is rendered inoperable not just the faulty bit.
    That's a very strange argument. "The faulty bit" happens to be the bit that is needed to make the thing work. What you are saying is that Apple should all access to the phone even if they know the security system is compromised? I'm not buying a phone that allows that!

    So if my car comes back from the dealer with a broken security system, then it should just allow any key fob to open the door and start the car?
    edited April 2017 watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 35

    djsherly said:
    You can have your car serviced with anyone as long as it's done to the standard prescribed in the service manual.
    Which is called - authorized repair center, because in the case of cars, you can't just get that manual for free. You have to pay Toyota or whatever company you think about, to give you access to their system with blueprints, schematics and other stuff, in order to properly service a car. On top of that, you also need to have a bunch of special (and very pricy) tools. You can refuse to buy those tools and do everything with a screwdriver, but it would be very easy for that manufacture NOT to honor the warranty based on improperly serviced/damaged components. 
    Theres a BIG difference between honouring a warranty/guarantee and bricking the device. BMW don't disable the car if you go to a back street garage to service it, it might not run perfectly on OEM parts, but it still runs.
  • Reply 16 of 35
    What apple could and should have done was simply disable TouchID and have a message pop-up stating that "unauthorised parts were used during a repair or a repair was done incorrectly - contact apple support for further information". Then the customer can pay again to have it done properly or continue to use the device without the TouchID, as if it were a iPhone 5 or earlier. Disabling the entire device is a step too far.
  • Reply 17 of 35
    djsherlydjsherly Posts: 1,020member
    Rayz2016 said:
    djsherly said:

    As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled.
    Except that's not what happened - the whole device is rendered inoperable not just the faulty bit.
    That's a very strange argument. "The faulty bit" happens to be the bit that is needed to make the thing work. What you are saying is that Apple should all access to the phone even if they know the security system is compromised? I'm not buying a phone that allows that!

    So if my car comes back from the dealer with a broken security system, then it should just allow any key fob to open the door and start the car?
    Rubbish, touch id is not needed to make the device work. There's a bunch of iOS devices out there that don't even *have* touch id. Why couldn't touch id simply be disabled? It's not the only way to access the device.
  • Reply 18 of 35
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,896member
    Rayz2016 said:
    djsherly said:

    As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled.
    Except that's not what happened - the whole device is rendered inoperable not just the faulty bit.
    That's a very strange argument. "The faulty bit" happens to be the bit that is needed to make the thing work. What you are saying is that Apple should all access to the phone even if they know the security system is compromised? I'm not buying a phone that allows that!

    So if my car comes back from the dealer with a broken security system, then it should just allow any key fob to open the door and start the car?
    Because the iPhone has no other security protection other than TouchID, right?

    iPhones were completely insecure until apple introduced TouchID with the 5S, right?

    Come on man, use your head. 
    edited April 2017
  • Reply 19 of 35
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,092member
    It seems like the Australian federal government has a branch that's devoted entirely to going after Apple with one lawsuit after another. I wonder whether the members of the Australian Anti Apple Commission (AAAC) are elected by the voting public or appointed by the government itself? Pesky little buggers. 
  • Reply 20 of 35
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,626member
    djsherly said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    djsherly said:

    As explained by Apple, iOS performs routine Touch ID module checks to ensure that the hardware "matches" other components installed on an iPhone and iPad. To maintain a high level of security, and thwart fraudulent hardware, Touch ID sensors that fail these tests are automatically disabled.
    Except that's not what happened - the whole device is rendered inoperable not just the faulty bit.
    That's a very strange argument. "The faulty bit" happens to be the bit that is needed to make the thing work. What you are saying is that Apple should all access to the phone even if they know the security system is compromised? I'm not buying a phone that allows that!

    So if my car comes back from the dealer with a broken security system, then it should just allow any key fob to open the door and start the car?
    Rubbish, touch id is not needed to make the device work. There's a bunch of iOS devices out there that don't even *have* touch id. Why couldn't touch id simply be disabled? It's not the only way to access the device.

    Because Apple is not dumb or arrogant enough to assume that they will always be able to prevent a compromised TouchID component from stopping their attempts to shut it down. They do not know all the possible exploits of their devices that are in existence now or will be in existence in the future. So they take the all or nothing approach: the phone is compromised or it is not.

    Fortunately for their majority of their customers, they don't take your approach, which would be to decide the phone is 'is just a little bit compromised'.

    Safety critical software works in much the same way; if three guidance computers come back with two different answers, then the plane lands, they don't take the two most popular answers as being correct.

    The problem is that your idea of a working phone differs from Apple. You think a phone is working if you can do stuff while it is compromised; Apple sees things differently. A 'working' phone means that the screen works, the speakers work, and the security system will actually keep people out.

    If you disagree, then Samsung is working on something that's right up your street:

    http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/04/05/researcher-calls-samsungs-tizen-os-the-worst-code-ive-ever-seen

    edited April 2017
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