The unfolding saga of Apple’s ‘Error 53’

Companies hiding in glass houses should avoid handing out bricks; Apple’s exclusivity has led to chaos for uninformed customers

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Image: Mikhail (Vokabre) Shcherbakov

Apple iPhone 6 and 6s users will have recently been advised to update their phones to the most recent operating system, but for some users this will have left their handsets permanently locked.

If they have had their Touch ID home button repaired by a third party (not including registered Apple resellers), after the iOS 9.2.1 update, ‘Error 53’ would appear. As a result, their phone would become ‘bricked’, rendering it a useless lump of metal and glass. This is permanent, with no fix, leaving the handset as effective for making calls and sending texts as a brick.

Apple is subsequently facing a lawsuit as a result of this incident due to the fact that customers received no prior warning. The Touch ID home button allows users to unlock their phone, as well as authenticating payments by using their fingerprint to confirm their identity. It has become central to the phone’s security.

An Apple spokesperson has replied to allegations about the illegality of bricking the handsets without prior warning:

“We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers. iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor in your iPhone or iPad correctly matches your device’s other components.”

When your phone is repaired by Apple there is a ‘pairing’ between the Touch ID sensor and a ‘secure enclave’, and without this security malicious parties could have access to the secure enclave. Or so Apple says.

The technology giant are claiming that by getting the home button replaced by a third party, users may have breached security measures and that ‘Error 53’ was put in place for the benefit of customers as it is “necessary to protect your device”.

But is the £236 expense for an Apple replacement home button justifiable for your security? Even worse for some, an Apple Store may be a long way from home, or may not even be in their country.

The controversy lies in the exclusivity that a consumer is forced to agree to when buying an iPhone.

Should the company be allowed to monopolise their phone repairs, charging ridiculous prices, despite other companies likely doing an equally reliable, and more importantly, affordable, job?

The biggest annoyance, for many users, was the lack of warning. If told in advance that their phone would be ‘bricked’, it is more than likely that they would have gone to Apple for the repair.

But without knowing the consequences of getting the phone repaired by a third party, and believing the repair would do the same job, why should they choose to go with the cheaper option?

If other repairs truly do violate security measures, then what Apple have put in place is understandable. However, doing it without informing users that their phone will be bricked, and with no warning about the possibility of hostile parties accessing their information is unacceptable.

Worse still, some customers who have not had any parts in their phones replaced have also faced ‘Error 53’. While Apple are asking these people to contact customer services, this might be a little difficult without a working phone…

Apple are constantly testing the water on how much they can get away with, trying to ensure that their customers are forced to rely exclusively on Apple. Despite the supposedly good intentions behind the current ‘Error 53’ saga, this is a very clear example of Apple’s plans backfiring. This very public and potentially expensive mistake could turn even more users against the technology giant.

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