Man holding Apple iPhone 6

Apple and Samsung under investigation for planned obsolescence

Image credit: Dreamstime

The Italian consumer protection regulator is opening investigations into Apple and Samsung, both of whom are accused of deliberately reducing the performance of its devices to encourage further consumption.

Planned or ‘built-in’ obsolescence is the practice of deliberately designing products such that their useful lifetime is limited, encouraging consumers to replace the product before it would be otherwise necessary. Although an established practice in many sectors, it has come under criticism for encouraging waste and pollution.

The Italian consumer protection authority - L’Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM) - has stated that it will be investigating the two tech giants Apple and Samsung following reports from consumers and its own preliminary research.

It will be focusing on reports that the companies had policies in place to reduce the performance of products over time using software updates, in order to induce consumers to buy new models. Crucially, the companies are accused of failing to appropriately inform customers about how to keep their devices performing to the highest-possible standard.

It did not specify which Apple or Samsung models may be affected.

Apple is facing investigations over planned obsolescence in France after the company confirmed in December 2017 that older iPhone models are deliberately slowed down with software updates. Apple stated that this was due to a need to protect the iPhones’ processors and extend their lifetime as their batteries degrade in order to prevent them shutting down unexpectedly. Following a backlash from consumers, the company has slashed the price for battery replacement procedures.

Apple is also facing consumer lawsuits in the US, Australia and Israel for its practices, although these countries - unlike France - do not have laws criminalising planned obsolescence.

This is the first time that Samsung has faced accusations of planned obsolescence. The company released a statement refuting the accusations: “Samsung does not provide the software updates to reduce the product performance over the life cycle of the device,” it said. The company has said that it will be fully cooperating with the investigation.

Although Italy has not criminalised the practice of built-in obsolescence, the country’s consumer code forbids companies from misrepresenting actions and withholding information from consumers.

AGCM has previously fined both Apple (for failing to be transparent about what its AppleCare package contained) and Samsung (for a misleading advertising promotion).

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