Consumer outrage is pouring against Apple, over deliberate ‘bricking’—iPhones repaired by parties other than Apple’s representatives are being rendered inoperative (or are becoming a ‘brick’) following any attempt to upgrade to the latest version of the operating system or iTunes. Dubbed Error 53 after the message that flashes on the screen of the now-useless handset, bricking, Apple claims, is being used to prevent any leakage of users’ data through any third-party repair that compromises the Touch ID sensor (housed in the home button) of the phone. The counter-claim, though—one that is becoming popular among suffering consumers—is that the company is bullying iPhone buyers to only approach Apple representatives, where any repair costs many multiples of the cost of getting it repaired from outside. Bricking complaints, interestingly, first emerged in 2014, but it is now—when Apple is facing slowing iPhone sales—that these complaints have become frequent. Such is the outrage now that some users are contemplating a class-action suit against the Cupertino, California-based company.
Apple’s user privacy concern does seem genuine. The Touch ID sensor in each iPhone is uniquely linked to a security enclave to protect user data, and upon repairs at an Apple-affiliated centre, this link is revalidated whereas for third-party repairs, it is not—Apple says this means the new Touch ID sensor will be read automatically as a fraudulent one during any upgrades. Nevertheless, bricking has become this unpalatable precisely because the iPhone is easily of the most expensive smartphones in the market, and punishing a buyer for choosing inexpensive but non-official repair services by killing the phone goes against the principle of consumer choice. Besides, once an iPhone is bricked, all the user’s data is locked away permanently—setting out protect data, Apple could be just be making it completely inaccessible.