Apple hauled before parliamentary committee to explain battery scandal

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Apple Canada is being forced to testify in front of a parliamentary committee later today about its role in the iPhone battery scandal.

The company admitted in December that it slowed down the software on older phones something it argued was necessary to avoid unexpected shutdowns related to battery fatigue. Many consumers responded with scepticism, reading Apple’s move as a way to stir up demand for newer iPhone models.

Now, the House of Commons’ standing committee on industry, science and technology is looking for a Canada-specific response from the California-based company.

While the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigates whether Apple Inc. violated securities laws, NDP MP Brian Masse, who pushed for the committee to study the issue, said he wants to make sure Canadian consumers are treated fairly.

“For me it was about Canada responding to a problem that is obviously international,” he said. “We’ve seen in the past that’s not always the case for consumers.

“Canadians need to stick up for their rights.”

Apple Canada maintains that it never concealed its software policy from consumers.

“Apple would never intentionally do anything to shorten the life of any Apple product or degrade the user experience in order to drive customer upgrades,” said Jacqueline Famulak, manager of legal and government affairs at Apple Canada Inc., in a statement prepared ahead of the committee meeting.

“The sole purpose of the software update in this case was to help customers to continue to use older iPhones with aging batteries without shutdowns – not to drive them to buy newer devices.”

Apple cutting battery cost
The committee will hear from Apple Canada along with the Competition Bureau and Primate Labs, the Toronto-based company that suggested the performance of Apple’s iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 models slowed as they aged.

The company makes an app for measuring the speed of an iPhone’s processor and published data just before Christmas that appeared to show slower performance in older iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 models.

Masse said he wants the Competition Bureau, which could launch an investigation, to be aware that Parliament is interested.

“I don’t know whether our Competition Bureau has the resources or has the teeth and the legislation that can adequately deal with Canadian protection and consumers,” he said.

“That’s no offence to them individually or the positions they occupy there. I think Canada is not well-positioned for consumer protection.

“We often get the bum’s rush when it comes to many of the consumer decisions and end up being kind of an afterthought.”

Alexa Gendron-O’Donnell, associate deputy commissioner with the Competition Bureau, told the committee that, as the bureau is a law enforcement agency, it can’t talk about ongoing investigations unless they are already public.

The bureau also keeps the number of complaints private, she said. But the CRTC sent a letter to the committee saying it received 20 complaints about the iPhone.

Apple has said it will cut the price of a battery replacement in Canada by $64, bringing it down to $35, through 2018.

Masse, who represents Windsor West, said that won’t go far enough to remedy the situation, especially when you consider shipping fees.