Do Companies Have the Legal and Ethical Rights to Slow Your Devices?
On December 20, Apple officially confirmed that they have been slowing down the performance of older iPhone models, confirming suspicions long held by customers. What followed was a flurry of angry consumers, many of whom have been Apple fans for a long time now, that would probably have shaken even Steve Jobs from the grave.
Apple users have been cheated, customers said. Worse still, the Cupertino tech company came clean only after a developer discovered the performance penalty Apple implements to address peak performance issues in older iPhones. Understandably, the whole debacle didn’t just end with rants on social media. Apple has been slapped with multiple lawsuits from angry consumers.
According to Anthony Daimsis, national program director of the International Law group at the University of Ottawa, these consumers have all the right to complain. “A private company like Apple may do whatever it wants but if it intends to do it, it must inform the consumer. In Apple’s case, it did not inform the consumer that it intended to slow down its devices,” Daimsis told Futurism.
“This is a misrepresentation by omission. It’s actionable for many reasons but the most basic one is this: if consumers had known that buying an Apple meant the device would become obsolete — because of the slowdown — they may have instead purchased an Android, or some other Apple competitor’s phone,” he explained.
“Consequently, consumers certainly do have a right to object. It’s a misrepresentation that induced the consumer to enter into a contract with Apple. This inducement and associated misrepresentation entitles consumers to a remedy,” Daimsis added.
It’s My Phone but Apple’s Software
It seems that the entire issue could have been easily solved had Apple informed its consumers about the performance problems. As mobile devices and gadgets become increasingly more prevalent, however, one cannot help but wonder if the same concerns would be present in future tech — say, in the performance of autonomous cars and their software.
“This is an issue that may become problematic. We already see it in the wireless and internet context where very few players control the market,” Daimsis said. “From my perspective, this will become — and it should already be — a legislature matter and we should have legislation to prevent this.”
Perhaps troubling is also the question of ownership when it comes to the difference in hardware and software for devices like smartphones or for any other similar kind of gadgets. “When I purchase the phone, it’s mine. Apple can’t do anything to the hardware, insofar as saying ‘pay me more, Anthony.’ But once I agree to use Apple’s software, it’s a bit different,” Daimsis told Futurism.
He explained that with software, a customer enters into a license agreement. “Still, Apple can’t just do anything. And whatever it can do, I should be capable of knowing,” he said. He believes that the problem lies in the lack of notice. “Did Apple sufficiently notify me that by using its licensed software, Apple would affect my hardware?” He said. “I doubt they notified sufficiently, if at all. And this is the problem because now they are, effectively, without permission from me, affecting my property, the phone.”
Apple has issued an official apology on December 28, explaining that a power management feature in a software update almost a year ago now for older iPhones was the cause of the slow performance. They’re now offering to replace the batteries of iPhone 6 and older models for $29, beginning on late January until December 2018.
As Apple’s letter puts it: “Of course, when a chemically aged battery is replaced with a new one, iPhone performance returns to normal when operated in standard conditions.”