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Apple Sued Over iPhone Bricking 418

Posted by Zonk
from the better-than-the-price-change-suit dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The week's debate over the iPhone 1.1.1 has finally resulted in legal action. InfoWeek reports that on Friday, California resident Timothy Smith sued Apple in a class-action case in Santa Clara County Superior court. The suit was filed by Damian Fernandez, the lawyer who's been soliciting plaintiffs all week for a case against Apple. The suit doesn't ask for a specific dollar amount, but seeks an injunction against Apple, which prevents it from selling the iPhone with any software lock. It also asks that Apple be enjoined from denying warranty service to users of unlocked iPhone, and from requiring iPhone users to get their phone service through AT&T."
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Apple Sued Over iPhone Bricking

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  • OfCOM (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:12AM (#20878153) Homepage
    I just can't wait for OfCOM to get their hands on Apple when the iPhone launches in the UK. I know I will be the first to complete a complaints for to them on the day of the release.
    • Re:OfCOM (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RDW (41497) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:59AM (#20878383)
      It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in other EU countries where unlocking must legally be provided on request, or where it's banned altogether, e.g.:

      http://www.unlockiphone.info/2007/07/iphones-in-france-law-says-they-must-be.html [unlockiphone.info]

      Will Apple be prepared to allow unlocked phones in these countries (presumably leading to a free European market in officially unlocked phones), or will they choose to lose sales and not sell where they can't enforce a lockdown and get the revenue that goes with it?
      • Re:OfCOM (Score:4, Informative)

        by R.D.Olivaw (826349) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:20AM (#20878513)
        That won't be so complicated. They will sell the phone with a contract. The same thing they do with any other phone. It won't be locked but you've already signed the multiple year contract when you get it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by RDW (41497)
          I don't know the details of the law, but it's been claimed that in (e.g.) Belgium, it's not legal to tie even an unlocked phone to a subscription:

          http://mindthegeek.blogspot.com/2007/03/great-idea-from-belgium.html [blogspot.com]

          http://www.ibert.be/2007/08/looks-like-iphone-wont-be-in-belgium.html [ibert.be]
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by maxwell demon (590494)
            Well, if the contract is made so that most of the profit comes from the monthly fee, then you getting the contract but not using it is still a great deal for the provider. I guess in countries where unlocking support is mandatory, the contracts will reflect the possibility to unlock the phone.
            • by RDW (41497)
              Yes, but if the above interpretation of the Belgian law is correct, the purchaser will have the option of buying an unlocked phone without any contract, and then just shopping around for the best GSM deal, so there'd be no link between the service provider and Apple, and no reason to hike the price beyond what the market will bear (just as with every other phone).
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by maxwell demon (590494)
                Is there also a law that an unlocked phone must be cheaper than a locked phone plus contract?
        • by MoonBuggy (611105)
          But why didn't they do that in the US, I wonder?
    • Re:OfCOM (Score:5, Informative)

      by Stevecrox (962208) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:27AM (#20878551) Journal
      For our international friends OfCOM is the government watch body for communications, a few years back they made the statement that unlocking your phone so it will work on different networks is perfectly legal and carriers have to unlock a phone if asked to do so (not tried it myself.) Apple's recent american update would fly in the face of that and OfCOM aren't afraid to fine companies and force them to follow their rules. OfCOM is currently looking into forcing broadband adverts to be more truthfull so marketing speak like "upto 8MBPS" or "unlimited" won't be allowed (even if they are legal) for Americans out there this is to protect consumers and is a good thing.


      I doubt its going to sell many units to the teenage "cool and hip" crowd because every teenager I know in the UK doesn't want to bring an expensive phone out on the town and I doubt your "power manager" type will end up with one because, from my albiet limited expearence with O2 stores. The staff are actually quite good at matching the phone to the individual, it may not necessarily be the most expensive phone they have on offer nor might it be the coolest looking but it will be roughly what the customer is after.
      • Re:OfCOM (Score:5, Insightful)

        by GPL Apostate (1138631) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:55AM (#20878677)
        The staff are actually quite good at matching the phone to the individual, it may not necessarily be the most expensive phone they have on offer nor might it be the coolest looking but it will be roughly what the customer is after.

        It sounds like the sales staff are active advocates for the needs of the customer, like they listen to what the customer needs and earn their salary by tailoring a package to meet those needs.

        That isn't allowed in the U.S. No Sales Manager would allow such a salesperson out on their retail floor. Here 'sales' is about maximizing return to the retail establishment at whatever expense. The customer is treated like a consumable.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by xaxa (988988)
          But if the customer thinks they got a good deal -- what they needed and wanted -- they'll probably go back to the store next time they need something it sells.

          Last time I went into an O2 store they had the cheap £20 pay-as-you-go phones, and they didn't try to sell anything more expensive to my grandma -- in fact, they recommended it since it had larger buttons than most other phones.
        • Soylent green is peeeeeopleeeeee!

          You wrote:
          "The customer is treated like a consumable."
  • by cavac (640390) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:17AM (#20878175) Homepage
    If you modify an embedded system in a non-vendor approved way and then install a vendor update and the update brakes cause you did something incompatible.... Then it's your fault, not the vendors...

    While i agree that Apple should be forced to sell unlocked phones, modifying a product in a non-approved way DOES invalidate your waranty. Why should the vendor be held reliable if YOU break his software?
    • by cbunix23 (1119459) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:41AM (#20878293)
      Exactly. There hasn't been any information as to exactly what the nature of that update from Apple was. All we know is after the update unlocked iPhones were no longer usable after the update was applied. The tech-ignorant media has been suggesting the purpose of the update was to turn unlocked iPhones into iBricks, but there has been no proof of that.

      Apple did not release an iPhone SDK or API that could be programmed to. Why should they be held responsible for what happens when iPhone updates break iPhones with arbitrary software on them.

      It would be like changing the linux kernel for some special project you are workin on and then complaining that your unapproved changes no longer worked when the next kernel release came along. That's why there are API and SDKs and manual pages. Go beyond them at your peril.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Aqua OS X (458522)
        Bah. We're talking about software here. It's not like little gnomes entered the iPhone and physically started destroying the hardware. At the very least Apple should allow people to wipe everything and begin anew.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by uglyduckling (103926)
        The tech-ignorant media has been suggesting the purpose of the update was to turn unlocked iPhones into iBricks, but there has been no proof of that.


        And how could we go about getting proof... hmmm... maybe... how about a lawsuit? Isn't that what they're for - a group of people have a strong suspicion of foul play and would like to know if it indeed happened as they believe and if there is a legal remedy for it.

      • by tgibbs (83782) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @10:53AM (#20879493)
        What is now becoming clear is that many unlocked phones come through the upgrade unbricked [engadget.com], albeit re-locked. Considering that recognizing an unlocked phone should be a simple matter of a checksum, it seems clear that Apple was not intentionally "bricking" phones. There are reasons to believe that this is likely an unintended side effect [brockerhoff.net] of an update designed primarily to enhance iPhone security. If it was not intentional, Apple is in the clear [wired.com], as they are under no legal obligation to debug an update to work with phones that have been modified in violation of warranty. And indeed, it seems that while Apple is under no legal obligation to do so, Apple sotres are restoring "bricked" iPhones. [tuaw.com] Moreover, it is not as if Apple failed to warn owners of unlocked iPhones that applying the update would likely harm their phones.
        • by makomk (752139) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:19PM (#20880621) Journal
          The phone in general isn't exactly bricked - though it is heavily locked down that it might as well be. However, as far as anyone can tell the baseband chip - which is used to communicate with the mobile network - does get bricked in many cases if the phone has been unlocked.

          In fact, he article you've linked to doesn't say that many unlocked phones have come through unbricked. It says that jailbroken (modified to run third-party software) don't get bricked, but people who've unlocked their iPhone definitely shouldn't upgrade because they're likely to end up with a bricked phone that doesn't even work on AT&T anymore.

          Also, the important security updates are to the main iPhone itself and don't require a baseband firmware update - I'm guessing that's aimed at closing whatever hole allowed the unlocking in the first place. If it bricks a few unlocked phones, well, what do Apple care?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by tgibbs (83782)

            In fact, he article you've linked to doesn't say that many unlocked phones have come through unbricked.

            Actually, it does. It says that "iPhoneSIMfree users seem to be in fine shape as long as they're rocking an AT&T SIM card." The most severe problems seem to be with "iPhone Dev Team's anySIM unlock," while it is unclear whether SuperSIM and TurboSIM users are at risk (although Engadget is advising them to play it safe and hold off on the update).

            It should be fairly trivial for Apple to detect unlockin

    • by suv4x4 (956391) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:43AM (#20878303)
      Why should the vendor be held reliable if YOU break his software?

      Indeed, why?
      Let's find out!

      *flips out a cell phone and dials his lawyer*
      • What about when the phone company disabling features to make a profit or otherwise cripple the hardware? i.e. damn near every US Verizon phone with that shiatty UI, software-blocked bluetooth transfer of ringtones/etc, and so on..

        It is extremely frustrating to have a phone capable of many functions only to have the service providor lock you out of them simply to charge you to use that 'feature.'

        -r

        (and yes, i do bitch and have verizon.. but i also get an amazing deal on service (+ a free krzr, which i LOVE)
    • by speaker of the truth (1112181) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:54AM (#20878355)

      Then it's your fault, not the vendors...
      Unless of course writes code that does nothing EXCEPT break modded phones. It would sort of be like Microsoft detecting you have open office installed on your computer while giving you a patch for Microsoft Word and then bricking your computer.

      Now I've seen nothing but insinuations that Apple did this myself. But some lawyer obviously thinks there is a bit more then insinuations. Whether or not he's hoping to confuse the courts or has a good case remains to be seen.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by s4ltyd0g (452701)
      So If I void my warranty, that gives Apple the right to break my phone?
    • by imstanny (722685)

      While I agree that Apple should be forced to sell unlocked phones, modifying a product in a non-approved way DOES invalidate your waranty. Why should the vendor be held reliable if YOU break his software?

      Like this sentance, the sentance above doesn't contradict itself -- no, wait a minute, yes it does. Why should the vendor be forced to unlock the phone? Just like the policy with warranties, you know full well what product your getting and the terms of service; if you don't like get, go shop elsewhere.

    • by Shivetya (243324)
      I don't have an iPhone so I have to ask.

      Before the update process took effect when the user plugged their phone into its cradle was any warning given?

      If not then I think this guy may have a case. Combined with some comments from Steve Jobs about not allowing this or that and looking to prevent it he may have enough to get a jury to find against Apple.

      I said it before and said it again. The cell phone market isn't the iPod market, its not the Mac market. Its the cell phone market and people have different
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @09:48AM (#20879051)
        Warnings were given multiple times. Apple release a press release, posted a warning before your computer downloads the new software and then posted an aditional and seperate warning (completely seperate from the EULA) before you could CHOOSE to install the software.
    • by lseltzer (311306)
      Everyone who buys an iPhone knows about these rules. You don't like them, don't buy an iPhone. It's not like it's an actual necessity of life.
  • by 3seas (184403) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:19AM (#20878183) Journal
    ... and this will settle the matter once and for all.

    I mean when you have to buy numerous formats of a song because you are not allowed to pirate what you buy, to yourself for use on another device.... then of course At&T iphone lockin is acceptable.... If you want to use a different carrier you need to use a different format/device.

    Anticompetitive practices is the only thing to argue here, but if you bring in a bunch of other non-issues then you can make the case lose.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MikeBabcock (65886)
      Speaking of re-purchase, I'm thoroughly annoyed, having just got a new phone from the same provider as my last one, that I have to repurchase the games I downloaded to my last phone. Same phone number, same contract and everything, but I'd have to repurchase the games to get them onto my new phone. That makes just /so/ much sense.
  • Caveat Emptor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nymz (905908) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:28AM (#20878225) Journal
    Caveat Emptor [wikipedia.org] - let the buyer beware.

    Honestly, Apple has not attempted to deceive anyone on this issue, and they make it clear that service is with AT&T only. If you don't want to be locked-in with AT&T, then don't buy an iPhone. Period. If you still must absolutely have a class-action lawsuit, then do it against the Steve Jobs backdating accounting scandal.
  • Bloody idiots. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ciw42 (820892) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:52AM (#20878339)
    This lawsuit is just absurd.

    OK, so I'm with everyone else hoping that before long the practice of locking phones to specific networks gets outlawed, but in this particular case, Apple haven't done anything wrong.

    They are only responsible for providing updates which work with their software as supplied, and not software and iPhones which have been hacked specifically against Apple's advice, to get them working on other networks.

    If your phone gets bricked by an Apple update after you've unlocked it, then it's entirely you fault. No-one else's. You did something that you knew full well at the time you shouldn't have done, and let's face it, it's not a simple process, so there can be no possible claim that you didn't know the consequences of your actions, and if you didn't understand this process and the implications, then you're even more of a fool for doing it. You've learned valuable lesson here - don't mess with things you don't understand. You immediately voided your warranty, again something you were fully aware that you'd be doing, and began using it in a way it was never intended or designed to be used, so you're not entitled to support. And now you've came out of it looking like a cock. With no phone. You bloody idiot.
    • by Morgaine (4316) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:36AM (#20878587)
      You believe that Apple's actions are OK, and maybe they are in the US. But that won't fly in Europe.

      The GSM standard expressly provides for cross-vendor compatibility through simple SIM change, and unlocking of locked phones is entirely legal in most if not all European countries. In fact, it's a substantial business to provide unlocking services, and to sell ready-unlocked phones.

      That doesn't mean that it's free (a cellphone service provider will charge you for unlocking, since it carries the risk for them that you might defect to a competitor if their service is bad). But it does mean that unlocking is supported.

      If the accepted and legal position in the US is that providers are allowed to deny GSM service mobility by not offering unlocking and by bricking unlocked phones on purpose (allegedly), then those providers are about to face problems when they try to do the same thing in European jurisdictions.
      • by ciw42 (820892)
        I'm actually based in Europe and am fully aware of the differences between regulations here and in the US.

        The changes being made by people unlocking their iPhones are not however limited to the data on the SIM, they are actual changes to the firmware installed on the machine itself, if they were just SIM changes then it would be a different story.
    • by fermion (181285)
      if we accept your premis
      oping that before long the practice of locking phones to specific networks gets outlawed
      The you conclusion
      Apple haven't done anything wrong.
      while true for some limited view of wrong, does not follow from the premis.

      I would say if apple has done nothing wrong, then laws regulated equipment and service providers are not necessarily needed. Like so many other things, if the market will bear a practice, then obviously people find value in the practice. For instance, cheap sto

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bigstrat2003 (1058574)

      If your phone gets bricked by an Apple update after you've unlocked it, then it's entirely you fault. No-one else's.

      Not if, as people have claimed, Apple deliberately caused the update to do that. This would be difficult to prove, but I really don't put it past Apple, so it's possible. If Apple deliberately bricked people's phones, they should pay.

      In addition, I hope this suit goes through even IF Apple didn't deliberately brick people's phones, as it could help move the cause of mandated unlocking forward.

      You've learned valuable lesson here - don't mess with things you don't understand. You immediately voided your warranty, again something you were fully aware that you'd be doing

      As someone else pointed out, the warranty should not be void for all things because you messed with the software

  • by mgkimsal2 (200677) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:57AM (#20878373) Homepage
    Do Apple users think they're different than everyone else? I guess that question is silly - of course they do ('think different' and all that). Well, looking at it now, perhaps this is more organized by the lawyer (does he use Apple products?) than the Apple users directly. I understand their frustration, but suing to have the phone unlocked from AT&T? OK, perhaps this will be a 'fight the good fight' and perhaps they'll actually win. Perhaps this is the only group that feels this passionately about the subject. But why not sue Blackberry for only allowing the Curve 8830 on the TMobile network? I want an 8830, but on AT&T. Should I buy it, sign up for TMobile, then sue RIM? Or TMobile? Or both? I guess I don't quite understand the notion of throwing these other extraneous issues in to the suit, unless they're hoping for *something* to stick.

  • by LwPhD (1052842) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:03AM (#20878405)

    I really see no true difference between using your iPhone (with a carrier OF YOUR CHOICE) and hooking your landline (with a carrier OF YOUR CHOICE) through your computer's modem so you can use a software phone and answering machine. Also, how is it any different from using your laptop with a cellular card (with a carrier OF YOUR CHOICE) to get internet connectivity on the go?

    To my layman eyes, the law in this area seems ad hoc and gives special attention to handheld cellular devices. Fortunately, it seems likely that unlocking is legal [slate.com]. I seriously hope this case will be the first of many to push regulation of companies that maliciously sabotage their customers after they bought the product to maximize profit.

    I'm currently a very satisfied Mac user (I'm writing this post from a 3 year old PowerBook G4 17" that still runs like a spotted assed ape) but these sorts of moves sour me on AAPL. I'll give them a few chances to mess up and be forgiven, but as a computer savvy person who's primary love of Apple is for how they've beautifully wrapped what's under the hood, I can just as easily go right back to Linux where I came from. After all, that's what I use on the desktop and in the server rack already. Why is it, just when Microsoft seems to have shot itself in the foot with Vista and controlling what users do with their hardware, that Apple jumps right of the cliff with them?

  • by sirwired (27582) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:03AM (#20878407)
    Apple bricking the phone is not illegal, nor should it be. When Apple sold the phone, they were crystal clear that its only supported use was with AT&T and Apple-approved apps. Those that disagree with the policy should not have bought the phone.

    Now, if Apple was suing folks for unlocking the phone, that would have been something else (and certainly brings to the forefront debates on shrinkwrap, reverse engineering rights, etc.) but they have not. The proper response to this bricking is another hack, not a lawsuit.

    Apple is also perfectly within their rights to not give warranty service to those that modded their phone. The Magnuson-Moss Act only provides protection to those whose aftermarket bits did not cause the phone to die. If these folks had not modded their phone, the update would not have killed it. The act was meant to protect those that say, bought ordinary aftermarket headphones... automatically denying warranty service for THAT would be a blatant violation of the Act. For folks that would avail themselves of the Act, even a liberal interpretation would mean they would have to prove that Apple's update deliberately disabled the phone. Given how many things that can go wrong with code updates, I would be surprised if Apple simply just did not test on an unlocked phone, and the process just happens to brick the thing. Apple probably bricked many legit phones during their testing process until they got the bugs worked out...

    SirWired
    • Apple bricking the phone is not illegal, nor should it be. When Apple sold the phone, they were crystal clear that its only supported use was with AT&T and Apple-approved apps.

      To be fair they only became crystal clear about the bricking long after people have started patching their phones and several patch providers have been selling "mods" for weeks.

      While I agree Apple will probably win a case that tries to prove Apple should support custom mods, still, many people would be discouraged from patching in
      • Apple bricking the phone is not illegal, nor should it be. When Apple sold the phone, they were crystal clear that its only supported use was with AT&T and Apple-approved apps.

        To be fair they only became crystal clear about the bricking long after people have started patching their phones and several patch providers have been selling "mods" for weeks.

        The first poster sounds a bit like he is saying that intentionalbricking would be legal. It most certainly is not. However, I assume that this happened unintentional, and in that case, Apple could only give a warning about this _after_ people had been unlocking their phones and Apple's firmware upgrade was finished and went into testing. Apple didn't anticipate the method for unlocking the iPhone (clearly, if they had known the method, then they would have prevented it from working in the first place), so

    • Apple probably bricked many legit phones during their testing process until they got the bugs worked out...

      Woah, that would be expensive. Why go to all that trouble?

      I'm sure that Apple has an iPhone emulator, with which they test these sorts of things.

  • iPhone in Europe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by d3m0nCr4t (869332) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:08AM (#20878441)
    I wonder how Apple will sell their iPhone in Europe. It is forbidden by the European consumer laws to sell a phone where you force users to a certain provider. I'm really curious.
  • ... bricking?

    Perhaps we can build a house with such bricks....
  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:44AM (#20878623)

    the lawyer who's been soliciting plaintiffs all week for a case against Apple.
    Man, and attorneys used to just chase ambulances.
  • by jdc180 (125863) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @08:45AM (#20878627)
    If the software in the phone is in an unknown state, then don't allow the upgrade to run.

    Apple obviously wanted to brick the phones. Just about every other upgrade i've ever run checks the bits it's upgrading to make sure it's good to go.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mark-t (151149)
      That's all very well and good, but it's not too hard to imagine cases where an installed application (such as a firmware upgrade app) would not be capable of detecting that it had been unlocked.
  • I voided the warranty on dozens of 128K and 512K Macs in my day, and I knew damned well that if I broke one, I was on my own. The warranty is contingent on certain terms. If the user breaches those terms and the device breaks, it's nobody's fault but his own.

    -jcr
    • by HuguesT (84078)
      Come on, this is not the same issue.

      Here people have modded their iPhones, they were still working 100% fine until Apple released an "update" that bricked them. This is futile, people who do not want to party with AT&T will find a way to use their own phone the way they want.

      Apple is too greedy, this lawsuit is for their own good. Plus they are stupid, the business model they currently have will not work in Europe.
  • by imadork (226897) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @09:57AM (#20879123) Homepage
    Am I the only person who thinks that Apple probably does not mind this lawsuit? Apple doesn't seem like the company who would want to sell service tied to one provider anyway, they would either want to sell devices that work with any provider or provide the service themselves. They were likely forced to lock the phones as a condition of getting on anyone's network, and starting their own network is impossible until more spectrum gets auctioned off. I'll bet that Apple was counting on a reaction like this, and has a provision buried in their contract with AT&T that says if a court forces them to unlock the phones, they can do so without invalidating their access to the network and AT&T can't complain.
  • by OS24Ever (245667) * <trekkie@nomorestars.com> on Saturday October 06, 2007 @10:15AM (#20879261) Homepage Journal
    I got bored and one site recommended filing a FCC complaint so I did, saying that they wouldn't unlock my phones after 90 days of service like their other phones.

    I got a call from the office of the president for AT&T. Unfortunately I was downstairs celebrating my daughters birthday so haven't been able to talk to them to see what happens, but I was pretty dang surprised.

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