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Apple sued over a security feature that can break the iPhone

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Washington Post

Apple is facing a class-action lawsuit over the phone-bricking “Error 53,” which has left some customers in need of a new phone.

The problem affects iPhone owners who’ve had third-party — that is, non-Apple — work done on their phone’s home buttons, which also houses the fingerprint scanner. Many people have reported that while the hardware seemed to be fine after the repairs, their phones became completely inoperable after updating their iOS operating system.

Frustratingly, there doesn’t seem to be a way to recover the phone after that point. The only option is to get a new device.

That obviously hasn’t sat well with phone owners affected by the problem. Now, the law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC (PCVA) has announced in a news release that it has filed a class-action lawsuit to get compensation for those affected by the problem.

“The first objective is to get all the affected iPhone customers reoutfitted with working phones, and without the overwhelming costs that thousands of people are facing right now with error 53 codes and bricked phones,” said Darrell Cochran, lead attorney for the suit, in a release.

“That will provide immediate relief to the consumers and, in the end, it also will help Apple.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Apple previously has acknowledged the problem, explaining the error as a security measure in a statement to the Guardian newspaper. The company said that the error is triggered by processes that ensure iPhone’s fingerprint scanner, called Touch ID, is working as it should and that no one has maliciously tampered with it.

Without having Apple re-validate the sensor once a phone has been opened, the company said, it’s impossible for the phone to tell whether the repair was aboveboard or not.

But Cochran and others are skeptical of the security argument.

“If security was the primary concern, then why did the phones work just fine, sometimes for several months, without the software update,” Cochran said in the release. “Error 53 only rears its ugly head when downloading a newer version of Apple’s operating system.”

Independent repairers have also noted that Apple could have simply disabled the fingerprint-scanning feature in cases where it senses unauthorized repairs, but allowed the home button — and the phone — to continue working. As Jessa Jones, the owner of iPad Rehab noted, iPhones can still be secure even when users skip Touch ID or use off-brand home buttons.

“The phone still is secured (if the consumer wishes) by the pass code lock just as all phones. If the phone is stolen, it cannot be reset and activated without the original owner’s Apple ID and password — that is, it is protected from theft with the iCloud activation lock,” she wrote. “But it will work. Indefinitely.

“You can enjoy all the other functions of the phone. You can call, and text, take selfies, connect to Wi-Fi and check email. You can play Candy Crush and FaceTime and surf the Internet.”

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