Apple sued in Belgium over guarantee misconduct

A consumer organization sued Apple because the company did not respond to its demands

By Loek Essers, IDG News Service |  IT Management

Belgian consumer organization Test-Aankoop has sued Apple, accusing the company of violating Belgian guarantee law.

The organization sued Apple because it is presenting consumers with misleading information about guarantees, Test-Aankoop's European public affairs advisor Gilles de Halleux said Tuesday.

Belgian law says sellers must provide a two-year guarantee that products have no defects at the time of sale, said De Halleux. In the first six months of that period, the seller must repair or replace a faulty device without the need for the consumer to prove the manufacturer was at fault, he said. After six months, the consumer has to prove that it was the manufacturer's fault that the device broke, he said.

Apple however guarantees the products its sells in Belgium for one year against defects appearing after delivery, offering on-site repair or replacement, including internationally, and offers 90 days' telephone support. On top of that, Apple invites customers to buy an AppleCare warranty extending that coverage to three years (or two for iPhones, iPads and iPods), with additional replacement options and telephone support for the duration of the warranty.

While AppleCare offers additional protection in the second and third years after purchase, De Halleux said there is potential for confusion when consumers are unaware that they are already legally entitled to some of that protection in the second year.

"The problem is that Apple of course has an interest to sell these guarantee extensions. And they do not provide sufficient information about the legal rights of the consumer," De Halleux said.

"If you for example buy an iPad on Apple's website you are proposed to buy the extension of the guarantee," De Halleux said. But the characters promoting AppleCare are very big, he said. "And in very small letters at the bottom of the page you can read that this does not preclude any of the legal rights. That is not fair, it is misleading."

Test-Aankoop asked Apple to represent information about the legal guarantee in a more objective way, so that it can be understood by people who are not legal professionals, said De Halleux. While Apple at the moment does state on its website that Apple's guarantee does not preclude the law, it does that in such a way that it is confusing for consumers, he added.

After the organization raised the issue with Apple, the company sent Test-Aankoop a letter saying that "everything was fine and they did not see the problem," De Halleux said. That is why the case was taken to court, he said.

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