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EU: Apple "not good enough" on warranty marketing

Apple

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 19 Mar 2013 at 15:39

Apple isn't correctly informing consumers about their warranty rights in at least 21 EU countries, according to European Commissioner Vivian Reding.

Italian authorities fined Apple €900,000 for not making it clear that EU customers have an automatic two-year guarantee. That was followed by ongoing legal action in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal, the EU noted.

The controversy surrounds how Apple was selling AppleCare, advertising a basic one-year warranty and selling an additional extended warranty on top of it. However, EU consumers are guaranteed at least a two-year warranty covering manufacturing defects.

Reding called for "more stringent" and "more coherent" enforcement of existing consumer protection laws - and pointed to the Apple warranty case as a prime example.

In at least 21 EU member states, Apple is not informing consumers correctly about the legal warranty rights they have

"Last September I wrote to consumer ministers about this case encouraging them to take appropriate action," she said during a speech in Brussels. "I also wanted to be clear that if the same problem is found right across the Union, consumers can expect their rights to be upheld in a similar fashion.

"This case and the responses I received since I sent my letter have highlighted rather clearly just why the Commission cannot sit on the sidelines on enforcement issues," she said. "The approaches to enforcement in these types of cases turn out to be very diversified and inconsistent at a national level."

"In at least 21 EU member states, Apple is not informing consumers correctly about the legal warranty rights they have," she continued. "This is simply not good enough."

Apple last year extended its basic warranty to two years to meet the rules, and clarified how such guarantees work on its website. Apple had no comment on Reding's speech.

The EU isn't able to take action directly against Apple or any other firm over such issues, but can put pressure on member countries to address the problem.

Complicated protection

A PC Pro investigation earlier this year revealed warranty confusion is widespread across tech manufacturers and retailers.

Microsoft and Google offer one-year warranties for the Surface RT and Nexus 7, but note in their terms that "statutory rights" are not affected. Dell and HP advertised a one-year warranty, and offer paid-for extensions, but don't make the EU rules clear on their own websites.

In the UK, retailers aren't obligated to point out statutory warranty protection, and normally stress their own or manufacturer warranties "do not affect your statutory rights".

Reding said in her letter last year that the Apple case reflected "unacceptable marketing practices". Clare Francis, a commercial law expert at Pinsent Masons, told PC Pro earlier this year that "the regulatory authorities in this instance appear to be looking at whether the advertising misled a consumer by suggesting the consumer should take out additional warranty protection".

The issue is further complicated by the timing of when problems develop in hardware. The EU directive covers faults that existed at the time of purchase, not problems that develop later on - which is covered in some extended warranties, including AppleCare and Apple's basic manufacturer warranty.

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