France probes Apple over iPhone battery slow down

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French prosecutors have opened an investigation into Apple over allegations that the US technology group deliberately slowed down its iPhone handsets, according to a judicial source.

The probe, which was opened last week and is being handled by part of the finance ministry, relates to allegations of “deception and planned obsolescence”. Planned obsolescence is a policy designed to produce goods that rapidly become outmoded and, therefore, require replacing.

Under French law it is a crime to intentionally shorten the lifespan of a product with the aim of making customers replace it. France is the third country to investigate Apple, following lawsuits from users in the US and Israel.

However, unlike in the US and Israel, planned obsolescence is a crime in France and is punished by a maximum sentence of two years in prison, a fine of up 5 per cent of annual turnover, according to Stop Planned Obsolescence (Hop), a French consumer rights group that launched the case. For years, iPhone owners have shared stories about handsets slowing down as they age.

In December, the company issued a public apology and offered a discount on buying replacement batteries after it was revealed that a software update slowed the performance of older phones. That same month Hop filed a lawsuit against Apple, pointing out that this software update happened at the same time as the company’s latest iPhone 8 was released.

“The slowing down of older devices seems to have the deliberate intention of pushing Apple customers towards purchasing the new model,” the group said. Apple did not repsond to requests for comment. However, the iPhone maker said in December there had been “a lot of misunderstanding” about the issue, explaining that the software update was designed to prevent unexpected shutdowns by improving how power was managed when the phone was used intensively.

“First and foremost, we have never  and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades,” the company said in a blog post. “It should go without saying that we think sudden, unexpected shutdowns are unacceptable. We don’t want any of our users to lose a call, miss taking a picture or have any other part of their iPhone experience interrupted if we can avoid it.”