A French consumers’ rights group joined the latest string of lawsuit filers against Apple after the company disclosed that, in some cases, it slows down older iPhones.
The company is already facing at least eight lawsuits in the United States, which claim Apple owes its customers money for not previously disclosing the slowdowns. But, in France, it’s actually illegal to make old devices worse to sell new devices—a process known as “planned obsolescence.” So the suit filed in France by a group called “Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée” is different because, among other penalties, it also carries the possibility of up to two years in prison.
The group, which lays out its case in an online statement, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has also previously sued printer makers including Epson, over claims that they violate the same law. The printer case is currently under investigation.
Last week, Apple confirmed in a statement that it will slow down iPhones if their batteries are old. The company’s explanation is that without its decision to throttle back the performance of its phones, the older batteries ran a higher risk of spontaneously shutting down—an explanation that makes technical sense, many experts have said.
But the company has faced criticism for not being upfront about its actions, and also for not letting people know that simply replacing their batteries would fix some problems. Its decision not to tell people about its changes feeds into a long-standing conspiracy theory that Apple slows down older phones so that people will be more tempted to buy new ones. And, as a result, iPhone owners in California, New York, New Jersey and even in Israel have filed suits against the company. The suits ask the company to pay iPhone owners varying amounts. One California suit seeks nearly $1 trillion in damages.
South Korean government telecommunications officials have also said they will look into the reports, according to the Korea Herald.
The argument of the people criticizing Apple largely rests on two claims: one, that Apple hurt the performance of the phones in secret and two, that doing so made it more likely that someone would buy a new iPhone rather than fix their old one.
That, argues one lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York, amounts to a sort of fraud: “Had Plaintiffs been informed by Apple that a simple battery replacement would have improved the performance of their iPhones, Plaintiffs would have chosen to replace their batteries which was clearly a more cost effective method rather than upgrading to a new iPhone that was extremely costly.”
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suits or the investigation.
The suits cap off a rocky year for Apple, which saw a lot of financial success but also small controversies—including a bug that prevented iPhone owners from typing “i” and several software issues. It also faced criticism over a lukewarm reception for its iPhone X and had to delay the release of its smart speaker, the HomePod, to 2018.
That said, Apple’s not hurting on the business front though: chief executive Tim Cook earned his $9.33 million end-of-year bonus thanks to strong stock market performance. And Apple appears to be finishing the year strong, with more people starting up new iPhones and iPads than devices from any other gadget maker this year, according to Flurry Analytics, a research firm now owned by Oath.