Batterygate strikes again: Consumer group sues Apple over planned obsolescence

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iPhone camera
Batterygate issue has been raging for a few years now.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Italian consumer association Altroconsumo launched a massive class-action lawsuit against Apple on Monday, seeking 60 million euros ($73 million) for the alleged planned obsolescence of iPhones.

Specifically, the suit mentions the iPhone 6 and 6s generation of devices. Apple used a software update to slow down these phones’ performance, resulting in the “Batterygate” controversy.

“Planned obsolescence is a deliberate unfair practice to consumers that causes frustration and financial harm,” Els Bruggerman, head of policy and enforcement for consumer right’s group Euroconsumers, told Cult of Mac. (Altroconsumo is a part of Euroconsumers.) “In November 2020, Apple ​announced that it will pay $113 million to settle allegations that it slowed down iPhones to mask battery issues. That settlement clearly demonstrates that Apple resorted to planned obsolescence as a deliberate attempt to increase renewal of phone, hide issues and deceive consumers.”

Apple says it slowed down the iPhones to preserve battery life and avoid crashes of older devices. Between 2014 and 2020, Apple sold approximately 1 million of iPhone 6 and 6s models in Italy alone.

Batterygate

The whole batterygate debacle is proving to be quite the costly lapse of judgment for Apple. In 2017, the company admitted that it slowed down aging iPhone models to stop them from crashing.

While this is a demonstrable technical issue, Apple has been criticized for not being more open about its decision. The admission also tied into complaints about alleged planned obsolescence. This is the idea that certain products are designed to purposely fail after a period of time, prompting customers to replace them earlier than necessary since they no longer work effectively.

In 2018, Apple finally released an iOS update that ended the automatic throttling of these older handsets. While users can use the advised feature, they no longer have to.

Since then, Apple has faced legal battles around the world over batterygate. At the end of 2020, the company agreed to pay out $113 million to 30 U.S. states to end investigations into the issue. However, as this latest case shows, batterygate is not going away anytime soon.

Trashed too fast

Bruggerman said Altroconsumo began working on this area of planned obsolescence back in 2017. That year, it launched a platform called Trop Vite Usé (translation: Trashed Too Fast). This allowed consumers to report products that wore out too quickly. Smartphones are, Bruggerman noted, “by far” the most registered product. “It shows that consumers just expect their smartphones to last much longer,” she said.

Euroconsumers is pursuing similar lawsuits in Belgium, Spain and — soon — Portugal as well. “The lawsuits ask for compensation of, on average, at least 60 euro for each affected consumer,” Bruggerman said.

Altroconsumo’s preliminary court hearing against Apple takes place on July 26, 2021.