The class-action case says Apple's actions are a violation of California's Unfair Competition Law.
Apple has been hit with a lawsuit over claims that the controversial “Error 53” destroys iPhones.
On Thursday, the law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala (PCVA) filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claiming that Apple’s Error 53 has effectively “bricked,” or rendered useless, iPhone 6 and newer devices. The law firm argues that Apple’s actions amount to “negligence” and are a violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law, among other statutes.
“As alleged in this Complaint, Apple has been unjustly enriched as a result of its wrongful conduct and unfair competition,” PCVA wrote. “Plaintiffs and the Class members are accordingly entitled to equitable relief including restitution and/or disgorgement of all revenues, earnings, profits, compensation, and benefits which may have been obtained by Apple as a result of such business practices.”
The issue centers on Apple’s AAPL fingerprint sensor Touch ID, which allows users to unlock the device and make secure payments through the company’s mobile-payment platform Apple Pay. If that component breaks, consumers can either have Apple or a third-party company replace it. According to PCVA, those who get their Touch ID components replaced by a third-party provider and subsequently try to update their device’s operating system will find that their phone is no longer usable. A message about “Error 53” appears when they are unable to install the software update, leaving them in limbo, unable to access their device.
“The phones are bricked after users install a phone update,” PCVA said in a statement. “Once bricked the phone is essentially useless.”
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The statement echoes the comments PCVA made last week, when it raised concerns over Apple’s Error 53 and threatened its class-action lawsuit.
“Think of it this way,” the firm said in its solicitation to prospective class members. “Let’s say you bought a car, and had your alternator replaced by a local mechanic. Under Apple’s strategy, your car would no longer start because you didn’t bring it to an official dealership. They intentionally disable your car because you tried to fix it yourself.”
The attorneys’ complaints followed a report from The Guardian, which was among the first to report on the issue earlier this month. The Guardian pointed to some users who claim to have been affected by the issue and told by Apple to replace their iPhone. The class-action similarly includes several examples of users who claim to have been affected by Error 53 and were told by Apple to buy a new device “because Apple is ‘not responsible for third-party repairs.'”
For its part, Apple has acknowledged that Error 53 could cause issues with an iPhone or iPad. On its support page, Apple suggests that users try to restart their handset after they fail to install an iOS update. From there, they should attempt to restore their device to their latest backup. If the restore doesn’t work, Apple asks that users call the company’s support.
In a statement to The Guardian last week, an Apple spokeswoman said that the Touch ID and iPhone are paired to “ensure” Touch ID features “remain secure.”
“Without this unique pairing, a malicious Touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave,” the spokeswoman said. “When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure.”
That may not have been enough for the attorneys or class members, but it’s a legitimate concern. Touch ID is the gatekeeper for Apple Pay and unlocking a person’s data. It’s possible that a malicious third-party could install a Touch ID replacement to easily gain access to a person’s data and potentially, credit card information. That said, there have been no known cases of that occurring, so far.
Despite Apple’s argument, the attorneys are pushing on. They’ve requested a jury trial, along with a “software update preventing Error 53 from rendering affected models completely inoperable and unusable and/or rendering ‘bricked’ devices operable and usable again.” The attorneys are also seeking an unidentified amount of damages.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.