Apple Accused Of Bricking iPhones That Had Been Repaired By Third Parties

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Having your cracked iPhone screen repaired by someone other than Apple is pretty common. But Australia’s consumer protection regulator says Apple used software updates that rendered the devices useless, and then refused to fix these phones because they had been repaired by third party repair services.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s allegations involve the infamous “Error 53” issue. This error message often popped up after users who had common repair work — like replacing cracked screens or iffy Touch ID sensors — performed by unauthorized service providers tried to update or restore the software on their device.

This error message locked down affected iPhones, turning them into the most expensive item in your junk drawer. In response to criticism, Apple told Cult Of Mac in 2016 that Error 53 was actually a security measure, meant to disable devices that may have had their Touch ID sensors swapped out in an effort to bypass encryption.

However, as many people — including the ACCC — have pointed out, many of the people who received the Error 53 message had not had their fingerprint sensor replaced; just the cracked screen.

The ACCC says that after Error 53 bricked users’ iPhones, “routinely refused to look at or service consumers’ defective devices if a consumer had previously had the device repaired by a third party repairer, even where that repair was unrelated to the fault.”

The lawsuit contends that this is a violation of the Australia Consumer Law, which includes guarantees that go beyond manufacturers’ warranties. Per the law, consumers are entitled to refunds, replacements, or repair at no cost for defective products.

“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,” said ACCC Chairman Rod Sims in a statement.

In Feb. 2016, Apple updated iOS to address the Error 53 issue.