The Australian regulator has sued Apple Inc alleging it used a software update to disable iPhones, which had cracked screens fixed by third parties.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched an investigation following reports relating to 'error 53' – an error which disabled some consumers' iPads or iPhones after downloading an update to Apple's 'iOS' operating system.
Many consumers who experienced error 53 had previously had their Apple device repaired by a third party, usually replacing a cracked screen.
The ACCC said that its investigation revealed that Apple 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.
ACCC said that between September 2014 and February 2016, Apple customers who downloaded software updates then connected their devices to their computers received a message saying the device "could not be restored and the device had stopped functioning."
''Under the Australian Consumer Law, there are a number of ''consumer guarantees'' regarding the quality, suitability for purpose and other characteristics of goods and services, and consumers are entitled to certain remedies at no cost where goods and services do not comply with the consumer guarantees,'' ACCC said.
The ACCC alleges that Apple told consumers with faulty products that they were not entitled to a free repair if their Apple device had previously been repaired by unauthorised repairers.
''However, having a component of the Apple device serviced, repaired, or replaced by someone other than Apple cannot, by itself, extinguish the consumer's right to a remedy for non-compliance with the consumer guarantees,'' ACCC said.
''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,'' ACCC chairman, Rod Sims said in a statement.
''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 added.
''As consumer goods become increasingly complex, businesses also need to remember that consumer rights extend to any software or software updates loaded onto those goods. Faults with software or software updates may entitle consumers to a free remedy under the Australian Consumer Law.''
The ACCC is seeking pecuniary penalties, injunctions, declarations, compliance program orders, corrective notices, and costs.