Millions of iPhone users could be eligible for compensation after a legal claim was launched accusing tech giant Apple (AAPL) of secretly slowing the performance of older phones.
Justin Gutmann, a consumer rights campaigner, has launched a claim against Apple over the decision at the Competition Appeals Tribunal (CAT) in London.
Apple could be forced to pay damages in excess of £750m ($921m) if Gutmann wins. The payout will be spread out between the approximately 25 million people who bought one of the affected phones.
"I’m launching this case so that millions of iPhone users across the UK will receive redress for the harm suffered by Apple’s actions," he said. "If this case is successful, I hope dominant companies will re-evaluate their business models and refrain from this kind of conduct."
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What is the problem?
Gutmann's claim relates to the introduction of a power management tool released in a software update to iPhone users back in January 2017.
Apple rolled out the update to slow down older iPhone models with ageing batteries, which may have struggled to run the latest iOS software. This was to prevent abrupt device shutdowns, it said.
However, the legal claim alleges that the company misled users by pushing them to download software updates it said would improve the performance of some devices but, in fact, slowed them down.
The consumer champion argues the decision to throttle the phones wasn’t disclosed to users at the time, and was introduced to disguise the fact that the batteries in older iPhone couldn't cope with new system demands.
The claim notes Apple added a mention of the tool to the release notes for the update on its website at a later date but says it failed to make clear that it would slow down older iPhones.
Apple acknowledged the throttling and apologised for its handling of the issue in late 2017 after some users noticed performance issues. At the time the company said it would replace batteries for a heavily reduced rate for a limited time and also introduce a feature to allow users to turn off the power management tool.
The tech stalwart said it had slowed down devices that had older batteries, were running out of energy, or were cold – which can affect the performance of a battery.
Explaining the issue, it said that when a battery was in a poor condition it might not be able to supply the required maximum current demanded by the phone’s processor at full speed. That would've forced phones to shut down before the update, intended to instead allow them to continue running, but at a slower pace.
In a statement, Apple said: "We have never, and would never, do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.
"Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that."
iPhones now include a report in the settings menu, under "battery health", that discloses whether the throttling is in effect.
Who is eligible for a claim and how can you make one?
Apple has already faced numerous legal challenges in other countries and even fines over the incident prior to the UK action. In 2018, it was fined €10m ($10.5m, £8.6m) in Italy, and agreed to pay $25 per iPhone (capped at $310m) in the US in March 2020.
Gutmann's claim relates to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X models.
It is an opt-out claim, which means consumers who have the models mentioned do not need to take any action to receive damages. The action is for each model owned rather than for each customer.
An opt-out claim is an action that is brought on behalf of those who fall within the defined class of claimants.
This procedure eliminates the need for individuals to choose to proactively participate unless they take positive steps to opt-out. That means all consumers in that group will be compensated if Gutmann wins.
Customers will likely have a way to apply for the damages down the line, should the award be granted. But, for now they can keep up to date with the latest happenings via theiphoneclaim.com website.
According to Gutmann, the update slowed the phones affected by up to 58%.
"Instead of doing the honourable and legal thing by their customers and offering a free replacement, repair service or compensation, Apple instead misled people by concealing a tool in software updates that slowed their devices by up to 58%," he said.
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