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Italian watchdog hits Apple, Samsung with fines over planned obsolescence

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A ding to public perception

Why it matters: Financially speaking, Italy's penalties against Apple and Samsung are trivial at best. The real damage could be in public perception and trust although honestly, both companies have endured worse and came out virtually unscathed.

Italy’s competition authority has fined Apple and Samsung 5 million euros ($5.7 million) each over claims of planned obsolescence. Apple was smacked with an additional 5 million euro fine for failing to provide customers with information about essential characteristics of the batteries in their phones and how to care for them.

Both companies will also be required to post a notice on their Italian portals informing visitors of the Authority's decision and link to the assessment order.

The AGCM found Apple and Samsung guilty of “unfair commercial practices” in violation with local laws relating to the release of firmware updates for mobile devices that “caused serious malfunctions and significantly reduced performance, thereby accelerating the process of replacing them.”

Specifically, the AGCM said insistent requests were made by manufacturers for consumers to download and install updates on devices that were not able to adequately support them and provided no means of restoring original functionality.

The claim against Apple refers specifically to iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s-class devices being upgraded to iOS 10, which it said was developed for the iPhone 7. In Samsung’s case, the watchdog said customers who purchased the Galaxy Note 4 were solicited to install a version of Android (Marshmallow) that shipped on the Note 7.

Apple last year admitted that it used software updates to smooth out peak current demands on devices with older batteries to prevent unexpected shutdowns. Many saw this as proof that Apple had indeed been conducting planned obsolescence, or taking steps to intentionally slow down aging hardware in hopes of convincing users to replace said devices with newer, faster models.

Apple has not commented on the Italian watchdog’s fine as of this writing. A spokesperson for Samsung told The Guardian that the company did not issue any software update that reduced the Galaxy Note 4’s performance. “In contrast, Samsung has always released software updates enabling our customers to have the best experience possible,” the spokesperson added.

Samsung plans to appeal the fine.
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