Apple under investigation for alleged ‘planned obsolescence’

Image credit: reuters

French authorities are to investigate Apple over claims that it deliberately slows down its older iPhones in order to encourage users to buy new models.

Planned (or ‘built-in’) obsolescence is the practice of designing products with limited useful lifespans, so that they become faulty - or unfashionable - after a chosen amount of time. Although this is a well-established practice for stimulating continued consumption in electronics, fashion and other sectors, it is strongly criticised for contributing to waste and pollution.

In France, however, it is against the law for a company to deliberately shorten the lifespan of a product in order to encourage consumers to continue buying; a 2015 law requires that companies declare the lifespan of their products and disclose how long spare parts will continue to be manufactured.

From 2016, it became a legal requirement in France for manufacturers to repair or replace faulty products within two years of purchase.

Apple’s iPhones are notoriously difficult and expensive to repair, with ‘tamper-resistant screws’ that cannot be removed with standard tools. Due to the loyalty of Apple users to the brand, their next model is likely to be another iPhone. Given this, planned obsolescence would be a safe and lucrative policy for the company.

In December 2017, Apple confirmed widespread consumer suspicions that older iPhones are deliberately slowed down via software updates, although the company stated that this was due to a need to protect their processors and hence extend the lifetime of the devices as their batteries degrade over time.

The issue can be solved by replacing the iPhone’s battery, a service which cost £79 at an Apple Store. Following anger over Apple’s admission, the price has been cut to £25.

“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,” the statement said. “our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible as an important part of that.”

Following Apple’s statement, a pressure group, Stop Planned Obsolescence, filed a complaint against the company. According to the group, Apple could face a fine of five per cent its annual turnover, or a custodial sentence. Apple will be investigated by the French government’s consumer protection agency.

According to reports, Apple is facing at least 26 lawsuits in the US regarding its slowdown of older iPhones. Claimants argue that Apple failed to disclose the changes made with its software updates.

Already, the US and Israel have investigated Apple for its practices, although these countries do not have laws in force criminalising built-in obsolescence. While France was the first country to introduce a law criminalising the practice, the European Union is also in the process of addressing the issue.

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