Electronics giant Apple has been fined €10m by Italy’s antitrust regulator for misleading customers over iPhone waterproof claims, with the regulator saying the potentially false advertising represented “aggressive commercial practices.”
The €10m (AUD $16 million) fine comes after an investigation from Italy’s competition and consumer watchdog group (AGCM) that found Apple’s waterproof claims for iPhones were dubious, and difficult to recreate without ‘laboratory conditions.’
The AutoritÃ Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato – AGCM – also said that Apple’s warranties on offer were unable to prevent customers that have had their iPhones damaged by water from receiving a replacement or affordable repair.
In a press release, the AGCM says that “the Italian Antitrust Authority fined the companies Apple Distribution International and Apple Italia for two distinct unfair commercial practices for 10 million euros.”
“The first concerns the dissemination of promotional messages of different iPhone models,” iPhone 8 through to the iPhone 11 Pro Max, “in which for each of the advertised products, the characteristic of being water resistant for a maximum depth varying between 4 meters and 1 meter depending on the model, and up to 30 minutes.”
“According to the Authority, the messages did not clarify that this property is found only in the presence of specific conditions, for example during specific and controlled laboratory tests with the use of static and pure water, and not in the normal conditions of the use of the devices by consumers.”
Central to the AGCM’s fine is the fact that while Apple’s iPhone waterproof claims may technically be true under laboratory conditions, it’s misleading to customers to make this claim when the results are difficult to replicate in real-world situations.
The AGCM also took aim at Apple’s disclaimer within a warranty agreement that states “the guarantee does not cover damage caused by liquids,” which the authority says is deceiving to customers considering that the water resistent claims are central to its marketing campaigns.
“The Antitrust also considered it appropriate to interrogate [sic] an aggressive commercial practice, [which is] the refusal by Apple, in the post-sales phase, to provide warranty assistance when those iPhone models were damaged to to the introduction of water or other liquids, this hindering the exercise of the rights recognised to them by the law regarding the Consumer Code,” the release reads.
Italy’s competition watchdog added that it was acting in contravention of Italian consumer rights by refusing to offer repairs for iPhones that had been damaged by water in its circuitry, with Apple’s warranty stating that water damage would void the terms of the warranty.
Apple is yet to make an official comment on the fine.
News of the fine from Italy’s consumer watchdog group come just a week after Apple settled a case and agreed to pay $113 million to a number of U.S. states for slowing down the speed of some older iPhones with software updates.
In that case, California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra said that “Apple withheld information about their batteries that slowed down iPhone performance, all while passing it off as an update… this type of behaviour hurts the pockets of consumers and limits their ability to make informed purchases.”
“Today’s settlement ensures consumers will have access to the information they need to make a well-informed decision when purchasing and using Apple products,” he said.