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Apple Agrees To Pay $113 Million To Settle 'Batterygate' Case Over iPhone Slowdowns

A customer compares her iPhone 6 (left) with an iPhone 7 at an Apple Store in Chicago. On Wednesday, more than 30 states announced a settlement with Apple over the company's past practice of slowing down a phone's battery.
Kiichiro Sato
A customer compares her iPhone 6 (left) with an iPhone 7 at an Apple Store in Chicago. On Wednesday, more than 30 states announced a settlement with Apple over the company's past practice of slowing down a phone's battery.

Apple on Wednesday agreed to pay $113 million to settle consumer fraud lawsuits brought by more than 30 states over allegations that it secretly slowed down old iPhones, a controversy that became known as "batterygate."

Apple first denied that it purposely slowed down iPhone batteries, then said it did so to preserve battery life amid widespread reports of iPhones unexpectedly turning off. The company maintained that it wasn't necessary for iPhone users to replace their sluggish phones, but state attorneys general led by Arizona found people saw no other choice.

Apple, the most valuable company in the world, acted deceptively by hiding the shutdown and slowdown issues, according to the court filing.

"Many consumers decided that the only way to get improved performance was to purchase a newer-model iPhone from Apple," Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich wrotein a complaint made public on Wednesday. "Apple, of course, fully understood such effects on sales."

According to state investigators, the move boosted iPhone sales "potentially by millions of devices per year."

The slowdown reportedly affected Apple phones that were released between 2014 and 2016. It first came to light after iPhone users complained on Reddit and technology blogs.

At the time, Apple claimed the unexpected iPhone shutdowns affected a "very small number" of iPhones, but state investigators say that behind the scenes, Apple worked to conceal the problem from the public.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the settlement. As part of the deal, Apple did not admit to breaking any laws or any other wrongdoing.

Eventually, in December 2017, Apple did admit to the battery slowdowns aimed at addressing the device shut down problem, leading the company to issue a rare apology.

"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," Apple stated at the time.

Nonetheless, the legal challenges continued.

In March, Apple agreed to pay up to $500 million to settle claims of intentionally slowing down older phones. That settlement called for Apple to pay consumers at least $25 per iPhone, though some consumers who had already spent hundreds on new devices saw the payments as too little, too late.

As part of Wednesday's settlement, $113 million will be distributed among the states, including California, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. In Arizona, the funds will cover attorneys' fees and will be used to fund future consumer protection investigations, according to the state's attorney general's office.

The deal also stipulates that Apple operate a website that makes iPhone updates that affect batteries "clear and conspicuous" to consumers. The agreement still awaits final approval from the court.

Starting in 2018, iPhone users have been able to better control an iPhone's battery life and check on the health of the battery, along with allowing users to turn off iPhone battery throttling.

Arizona Attorney General Brnovich said the settlement on Wednesday exposed Apple's deceptive behavior before the company opened up over slowing down users' batteries.

"Big Tech companies must stop manipulating consumers and tell them the whole truth about their practices and products," Brnovich said. "I'm committed to holding these Goliath technology companies to account if they conceal the truth from their users."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
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