Italian court fines companies for using software updates to effectively force consumers to buy new phones
Have you ever received an update on your phone or device, and afterward found that phone ran significantly slower? Well, an Italian court ruled on Wednesday that sometimes that can amount to a violation of consumer rights, and fined two offending cell phone manufacturers.
Apple will have to pay two fines in Italy, the equivalent of $11.4 million in total, one fine for slowing users’ phones with a software update and the other for lack of transparency and communication with customers. Samsung will pay $5.7 million for pushing an update to phones that caused performance issues on older phones.
Apple’s fine stems from “BatteryGate”
Italy’s antitrust organization is fining Apple for throttling its phone processors. Last December, people discovered that Apple slowed down phones with older batteries via a software update, allegedly to reduce the load on those batteries. After some public blowback, Apple offered to replace those older batteries at a reduced price at Apple stores. But with such high demand, long waitlists formed. Some customers faced an additional obstacle: they live hours away from the nearest Apple store.
In the weeks after the news became public, U.S. PIRG surveyed 164 independent repair businesses who reported a cumulative 37 percent increase in weekly battery replacement service requests in the month after the throttling news broke. Self-repair interest surged as well — online traffic seeking iPhone battery repair instructions went up 153 percent between Dec. 20, 2017 and Jan. 22, 2018.
Our report highlighted that people want repair options outside the manufacturer. Even though Apple was offering a low-cost battery replacement plan in light of the scandal, iPhone owners still flocked to independent technicians for battery replacements.
Apple’s headaches from the battery saga may not be over. The French government, as well as the United States’ Securities and Exchange Commission and Department of Justice, have launched investigations, and a class-action lawsuit has been filed.
BatteryGate also highlights the need for Right to Repair reforms. We all have the right to seek out the best deal in the market, but companies refuse to make original parts and repair information available. When only the manufacturer can fix our devices, we have far fewer options to address problems such as older batteries.
Samsung fined for insisting on customer install update that slowed phone
The Italian ruling censured Samsung for “insistently” pushing a new update intended for the Note 7 device to owners of Note 4 devices, “without informing them of the serious malfunctions that the new firmware could cause due to the greater stress of [the] device’s hardware and asking a high repair cost for out-of-warranty repairs connected to such malfunctions.”
Samsung testified in a Dutch court this spring that it could not promise to support phones with software for more than two years.
While the Samsung example received less attention than BatteryGate, plenty of irate customers felt pushed to install the update, even though it caused significant issues with their older phones.
Americans throw out 416,000 cell phones each day. We must find ways to keep these amazing devices from becoming essentially disposable, and that means companies need to stop using software updates to push us into buying a new device when the old ones is working just fine.
Meanwhile, Motorola shows its support for Right to Repair by announcing new DIY kits through iFixit
Though some manufacturers continue to resist Right to Repair, Motorola is going the right direction, showing an open attitude toward repair.
If you need to replace the battery on your Moto phone, you can now order an kit from iFixit.com, containing the original manufacturer parts and manufacturer instructions.
The core of Right to Repair is getting access to these parts and service information for all our electronics. Motorola is responding to what consumers want. It might be a small step, but it’s a significant signal from a major manufacturer that where there’s a will to change the approach to repair, there’s a way.
Senior Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, PIRG
Nathan leads U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, working to pass legislation that will prevent companies from blocking consumers’ ability to fix their own electronics. Nathan lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.