By Glenn Fleishman
June 19, 2018

The Federal Court in Australia ordered Apple to pay a fine of Au$9 million (U.S.$6.6 million) due to misrepresentations to at least 275 Australian iPhone owners about repairing their phones after a late 2015 software update disabled some phones that had been repaired by parties other than Apple.

This became known as the “Error 53” problem, as that message appeared in iTunes after an affected iPhone became unresponsive or “bricked” after certain third-party repairs replaced or disturbed the portion of an iPhone 6 or later that contained the Touch ID fingerprint sensor. When this happened, the sensor could become “unpaired” for security reasons, as it could indicate tampering by another party attempting to unlock the phone without authorization. However, prior to a software update in 2015, phones would continue to work without Touch ID.

Apple took months to reply to the initial reports as they grew worldwide, and then issued a statement blaming repairs in early February 2016 without offering any relief to customers. After an outcry, the company backpedaled and apologized a week later, offered reimbursement for repairs iPhone owners had paid for in the meantime, and released a software update that eliminated the problem.

That wasn’t enough for the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), as it filed suit related to Australian iPhone owners who Apple initially told weren’t eligible for any kind of help from as far back as February 2015 through the February 2016 update in policy and support. The ACCC says after it contacted Apple about an investigation, the company changed its policy, ultimately contacting 5,000 affected iPhone owners. (The Federal Court filing is not yet posted.)

The ACCC also says Apple provided refurbished goods as part of its program to repair affected phones, when it should have been obliged to offer a new unit. Outside of the suit, the ACCC says Apple agreed to provide a new phone to any customer who requested one.

In the company’s global apology in February 2016, it said “Error 53” was a manufacturing test that should only be triggered in a factory. Apple’s software update allowed its customers worldwide to restore their phones, but the Home button’s fingerprint sensor still had to be replaced by Apple directly in order to re-enable Touch ID unlocking.

At least two class-action lawsuits were filed in the U.S. almost immediately. One was thrown out in June 2016, while Apple settled the other in September 2017 with what the firm that filed the case described as “full replacement costs and additional compensation” to all those it represented.

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