You. Apple. Get in here and explain these iOS slowdowns and batteries – US, French govt reps

Difference in opinion over what constitutes an 'update'

The chairman of the US Senate Commerce Committee and the French government want answers from Apple about its software "update" that slows older iPhones.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) and the French economy ministry's consumer fraud watchdog DGCCRF have both asked the technology giant pointed questions about its decision to throttle performance on phones that have older batteries.

Apple has argued that the software was rolled out to "deliver the best experience for customers" by improving overall performance and extending the life of phones. But the fact that Apple did not inform users of the change, or provide an option to turn it off, and only admitted to the change after it was proved online, has left many suspicious of Cupertino's real intent.

Both Thune and the DGCCRF (the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Repression of Fraud) have strongly implied that Apple may be engaging in "planned obsolescence" – slowing down old phones in order to encourage people to purchase the latest models, despite Apple's explicit rejection of the claim.

"Despite longtime consumer speculation that Apple engaged in these practices, the company waited until shortly after Christmas to admit that, in fact, its software updates include features to throttle back processing performance," notes Thune's letter [PDF] to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

It goes on: "Even if Apple's actions were indeed only intended to avoid unexpected shutdowns in older phones, the large volume of consumer criticism leveled against the company in light of its admission suggests that there should have been better transparency with respect to these practices."

Just a few questions for you

He then poses eight questions in order to "understand Apple's rationale behind these software updates" and gives Apple two weeks (to January 23) to respond to them.

Those questions in full:

  1. Did Apple notify its customers before it released this software update feature to throttle back processing performance for its iPhone 6, iPhone 6S, iPhone SE and iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2? If so, when and how did Apple notify its customers?
  2. Did Apple offer its customers the option of declining the software update feature to throttle back processing performance? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. Did Apple release a similar software update feature to throttle back processing performance for earlier models, such as the iPhone 4, iPhone 5, and iPhone 5S? If so, when? Did Apple notify its customers before doing so? If so, when and how did Apple notify its customers?
  4. Does Apple plan to release a similar software update feature to throttle back processing performance for newer phone models? What notice does it plan to provide to customers before doing so?
  5. Has Apple tracked consumer complaints about processing performance that are likely to be attributable to this software update throttling feature? If so, how many such complaints has Apple received and how has Apple addressed such complaints?
  6. How did Apple notify its customers regarding the option of replacing the iPhone battery?
  7. Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement to $29 for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later. In addition, Apple has issued an apology to consumers for the way it handled performance for iPhones with older batteries and how Apple communicated that process. How did Apple arrive at the $29 battery replacement figure? Did the company consider alternative plans to address the issue, such as providing a replacement battery free of charge to affected consumers?
  8. Has Apple explored whether consumers who previously paid the full, non-discounted price for a replacement battery in an effort to restore performance should be allowed to seek a rebate for some of the purchase price?

Meanwhile, the French government has opened an official investigation into the same issue following a legal complaint from a French consumer association focused on identifying and prosecuting companies for introducing planned obsolescence.

Hamon Hamon

Under a French law passed in 2015 and known as "Hamon's Law," it is illegal for companies to engage in planned obsolescence and any company found to be deliberately shortening the life of a product can be fined up to five per cent of its annual sales, with executives facing a maximum two-year jail sentence. Epson is also currently under investigation for its printer cartridges, for instance.

That iOS probe is expected to take several months, and investigators will eventually recommend that the case is either dropped or passed onto a judge for further scrutiny and possible prosecution. It's not clear exactly how much money Apple makes specifically from sales in France thanks to its elaborate tax-avoiding structure, but if found guilty the fine would likely be in the billions of dollars.

And just to add to Apple's poor public perception in France, the company said last week it was suing activist group Attac after 100 supporters occupied a Paris Apple Store as part of a campaign to shame the Cupertino goliath into paying taxes.

Attac said it wanted Apple to cough up the €13 billion ($15bn) the European Union last year said the iGiant dodged by processing its sales through Ireland.

And just for good measure, lawsuits have also been filed in California, New York, and Illinois, in America, claiming that Apple defrauded users by slowing down their devices without warning. ®

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