Consumers Are Suing Apple For Slowing Down Their iPhones. Did Apple Break The Law?

Consumers Are Suing Apple For Slowing Down Their iPhones. Did Apple Break The Law?

Apple says, was to prevent “unexpected shutdowns” that old phones with weaker batteries might otherwise occasionally suffer. When the news broke, Apple quickly apologized for the slowdown and offered its customers discounted replacement batteries. But consumers are not appeased, and within hours class actions have been filed against Apple.

Open source

iOS upgrades cause old iPhones to slow down

It appears that this slowdown practice might not be a one-time glitch, but a longstanding “planned obsolescence” tactic allegedly employed by Apple to prompt consumers to replace their devices earlier than otherwise necessary, to coincide with the launch of (and increase the demand for) new iPhone models. People rush to replace the slowed-down phones, not realizing that they only need to replace the battery, or, better yet, choose not to install the software update. These options were obscured (until now), resulting in surges of unnecessary purchases.

There are many problematic angles with this tactic, and in posting an apology Apple recognizes that its customers rightly feel duped. But is it illegal to accelerate the obsolescence of the phones? Has Apple violated any law, or breached its contract with consumers?

The language of the contract to which consumers click “I Agree” when installing the iPhone’s updated software is vague, but it seems to (unsurprisingly) grant Apple wide authority to incorporate any functionality feature. The contract—17 pages of sobering legal language—announces that Apple “does not warrant against interference with your enjoyment of the iOS software […or] that the operation will be uninterrupted or error-free.” The contract further warns that “installation of this iOS software may affect the availability and usability” of apps and services.

But fine print disclaimers can shield Apple from liability for unfair acts only so much. Contract law prohibits deception and concealment. The law requires merchants to act in good faith in performance of their contracts with consumers, and does not allow them to escape these obligations by tossing a bunch of  boilerplate at consumers.

There are legal precedents holding merchants liable for knowingly inducing consumers to buy things they don’t need. Well known to many lawyers is an old case against Arthur Murray dance studio, who sold to unsuspecting clients endless unnecessary and unusable dance lessons. In one particularly egregious case, the Florida branch of the studio sold to an aging widow 2300 hours of future dance lessons, which she could not realistically utilize—all under the seductive insinuations that such prepaid commitments would elevate her to unending artistic success. The Florida court condemned such “suppression of truth” and the denial of “free exercise of rational judgment” and held that the studio can be found liable for bad faith and fraud. This is not a one off decision; courts all over the country require that merchants alert their contracting parties when they notice that these parties are making crucial mistakes.

Undeniably, companies sell in the market things that people don’t really need all the time, and are not breaking the law. This is the definition of a modern affluent society. But it is one thing to knowingly sell products of no practical use like “smart” water bottles (reminding you to be thirsty) or Bluetooth toasters (“to toast smarter”)—consumers can figure out in advance what they are getting and exercise restraint. It is an entirely different matter to make representations that turn out to be misleading, by merchants with superior information, pretending to provide their trusting customers reliable advice on how to get the most from their products.

Consumer protection law is all about the prevention of such deception by merchants. Each state has laws that prohibit unfair and deceptive acts, including the concealment of material facts, and especially representations on which consumers are known to rely. If Apple deliberately concealed the fact that the upgrades would slow down the phone, it could easily be found liable under these laws, notwithstanding its attempts to disclaim the liability in the contract.

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Apple Land is in turmoil. Apple admitted that its recent software updates deliberately slowed down the performance of old iPhones. The reason, Apple says, was to prevent “unexpected shutdowns” that old phones with weaker batteries might otherwise occasionally suffer. When the news broke, Apple quickly apologized for the slowdown and offered its customers discounted replacement batteries. But consumers are not appeased, and within hours class actions have been filed against Apple.

Open source

iOS upgrades cause old iPhones to slow down

It appears that this slowdown practice might not be a one-time glitch, but a longstanding “planned obsolescence” tactic allegedly employed by Apple to prompt consumers to replace their devices earlier than otherwise necessary, to coincide with the launch of (and increase the demand for) new iPhone models. People rush to replace the slowed-down phones, not realizing that they only need to replace the battery, or, better yet, choose not to install the software update. These options were obscured (until now), resulting in surges of unnecessary purchases.

There are many problematic angles with this tactic, and in posting an apology Apple recognizes that its customers rightly feel duped. But is it illegal to accelerate the obsolescence of the phones? Has Apple violated any law, or breached its contract with consumers?

The language of the contract to which consumers click “I Agree” when installing the iPhone’s updated software is vague, but it seems to (unsurprisingly) grant Apple wide authority to incorporate any functionality feature. The contract—17 pages of sobering legal language—announces that Apple “does not warrant against interference with your enjoyment of the iOS software […or] that the operation will be uninterrupted or error-free.” The contract further warns that “installation of this iOS software may affect the availability and usability” of apps and services.

But fine print disclaimers can shield Apple from liability for unfair acts only so much. Contract law prohibits deception and concealment. The law requires merchants to act in good faith in performance of their contracts with consumers, and does not allow them to escape these obligations by tossing a bunch of  boilerplate at consumers.

There are legal precedents holding merchants liable for knowingly inducing consumers to buy things they don’t need. Well known to many lawyers is an old case against Arthur Murray dance studio, who sold to unsuspecting clients endless unnecessary and unusable dance lessons. In one particularly egregious case, the Florida branch of the studio sold to an aging widow 2300 hours of future dance lessons, which she could not realistically utilize—all under the seductive insinuations that such prepaid commitments would elevate her to unending artistic success. The Florida court condemned such “suppression of truth” and the denial of “free exercise of rational judgment” and held that the studio can be found liable for bad faith and fraud. This is not a one off decision; courts all over the country require that merchants alert their contracting parties when they notice that these parties are making crucial mistakes.

Undeniably, companies sell in the market things that people don’t really need all the time, and are not breaking the law. This is the definition of a modern affluent society. But it is one thing to knowingly sell products of no practical use like “smart” water bottles (reminding you to be thirsty) or Bluetooth toasters (“to toast smarter”)—consumers can figure out in advance what they are getting and exercise restraint. It is an entirely different matter to make representations that turn out to be misleading, by merchants with superior information, pretending to provide their trusting customers reliable advice on how to get the most from their products.

Consumer protection law is all about the prevention of such deception by merchants. Each state has laws that prohibit unfair and deceptive acts, including the concealment of material facts, and especially representations on which consumers are known to rely. If Apple deliberately concealed the fact that the upgrades would slow down the phone, it could easily be found liable under these laws, notwithstanding its attempts to disclaim the liability in the contract.

Published at Fri, 29 Dec 2017 20:43:40 +0000 from Google News

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Ron Kerr

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