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Italian competition watchdog slaps Apple with €10m fine over allegedly misleading iPhone waterproofing claims

We said they were water-resistant, counters iGiant, as unhappy customers return from the beach

The Italian competition authority (AGCM, or Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato) has fined Apple €10m (£8.97m/ $12m) over allegations it misled customers about the waterproofing qualities of its iMobes.

The complaint [PDF] pertains to the iPhone 8, iPhone X, and iPhone 11 blowers, which Cupertino touted as having certain levels of water resistance – between 1 and 4 metres, depending on the device. But, to the chagrin of the AGCM, Apple did not clarify that these tests were performed in specific and controlled laboratory tests, using "static and pure" water.

Real-world conditions, AGCM said, may differ significantly. Saline seawater is markedly worse for a phone than, say, the liquid in your toilet bowl. It's vastly more conductive. This can cause short circuits, which may irreparably damage specific components on your phone's logic board. Saltwater is also much more corrosive.

Put simply: if your phone takes an untoward plunge into the Med, its odds of survival will be different from falling into a tub of distilled water with no impurities. The AGCM believes Apple did not make this sufficiently clear to consumers.

The AGCM also took issue with Apple's warranty disclaimer, which excludes repairs caused by water damage. Given Apple's heavy marketing of the iPhone's water-resistant features, the watchdog believes this misled consumers.

The complaint cites several examples of consumers who felt misled. One Italian punter, who bought an iPhone XS Max, said his phone "turned out not so resistant after... a short dive in sea water. It has stopped working properly. No warranty has been recognised. I had to pay €640 for the product replacement."

The iPhone XS Max boasts a water and dust-proof rating of IP68. This means that, while under laboratory conditions, it can survive being submerged in as much as two metres of water for up to 30 minutes.

In legal arguments, Apple countered that its marketing was not deceptive as it did not suggest the devices are totally waterproof, but merely "water resistant". These advertisements, it added, focused on accidental and involuntary exposure to water, and not those likely to occur in situations where "a massive dose of water is present".

In addition to the €10m fine, the watchdog has also ordered Apple to publish a statement on its Italian homepage, as well as the page for the iPhone.

In the 12-month period ending September 2019, Apple's Italian subsidiary reported revenues of €58.6m and operating profit of €26.9m. Apple has 60 days to appeal the judgment.

We've asked Apple for comment on the AGCM's ruling and whether the company plans to appeal against it. ®

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