Apple settles Belgian guarantee dispute

Belgium is one of many countries that has issues with Apple's warranty conducts

Apple has settled a legal dispute with Belgian consumer organisation Test-Aankoop over its warranty practices, the consumer organization said Monday.

Test-Aankoop had sued Apple accusing the company of violating Belgian guarantee law. Apple presented consumers with misleading information about their legal guarantee rights in order to push the sales of its AppleCare warranty, according to the consumer organisation.

Apple however has now agreed to adhere to Belgian law in an agreement with Test-Aankoop, the organisation said in a news release.

From now on, Apple will explain clearly on its website to which statutory warranty Belgian consumers are entitled and will explain how that right relates to the commercial AppleCare warranty, Test-Aankoop said. The company will also explain more clearly what consumers get if they buy AppleCare, and Apple will inform its resellers of the legal warranty requirements, it added.

Apple declined to comment.

In line with European law, Belgian sellers are obliged to provide a two-year warranty on products. The seller is obliged to repair or replace a faulty product without the need for consumers to prove the manufacturer was at fault within the first six months. After this period the burden of proof lies with the consumer.

Apple however had been offering a one-year warranty on products, offering a replacement product in that period. On top of that, Apple also offered AppleCare, an extended paid-for warranty that let's consumers prolong that one-year period to three years, or two years for iPhones, iPads and iPods.

This could be confusing to consumers, because they might be inclined to buy AppleCare while they are unaware they are already legally entitled to some of the protection offered by that paid program in the second year, according to Test-Aankoop. Apple only mentioned the legal guarantee in very small type at the bottom of the page describing AppleCare, it noted, adding that this was not sufficient.

While Apple updated its Belgian warranty policy in June last year to deal with this issue, Test-Aankoop did not drop its lawsuit. The organisation said at the time it wanted to be sure that Apple was committed to a long term change before it would let the matter drop.

Apple has been facing complaints about its warranty marketing in other European countries, including Italy, where the company was fined  €900,000 (US$1.15 million) for not providing enough information about statutory warranties and thus of "unfair commercial practices that damage the consumer."

Consumer organizations in Germany, Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain had also found fault with Apple's warranty practices, filing complaints with European Commissioner Viviane Reding around the end of 2012. Reding had asked all 27 member states to "examine closely Apple's advertising of product warranty practices" for any similar misleading behavior.

The European Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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