Apple updates Belgian warranty policy as consumer lawsuit proceeds

Apple needs to commit to these changes, the Belgian consumer organization said

Apple has posted to its Belgian website a new policy stating that its warranty period is now two years, up from the previous one year, but a local consumer group suing the company over the issue is withholding judgment for now.

The company was sued by Belgian consumer organization Test-Aankoop in January for allegedly presenting consumers with misleading information about warranties.

The new policy was uploaded this week, as noted by the Belgian news site Apple Nieuws Vlaanderen.

By law, Belgian sellers must provide a two-year warranty on products. During the first six months a seller must repair or replace a faulty product without the consumer needing to prove that the manufacturer was at fault. After this six-month period, the consumer has to prove problems are the manufacturer's fault.

Apple's policy had been to offer only a one-year warranty for the products it sells in Belgium, protecting them against defects during that period and offering on-site replacement, including internationally, and 90 days telephone support. Apple also offers customers an AppleCare paid warranty that extends that one-year period to three years, or two years for iPhones, iPads and iPods.

Test-Aankoop has said that consumers may be confused by this policy, and tempted to buy the AppleCare warranty if they are not aware that they are already legally entitled to some of the protection offered by that paid program in the second year. While Apple mentioned the legal guarantee in very small type at the bottom of the page describing AppleCare, this was not sufficient, according to Test-Aankoop.

The consumer organization subsequently sued Apple because it did not change its practices in response to a request represent the information differently.

On Thursday, Test-Aankoop's European Public Affairs Advisor Gilles de Halleux said it had noted the change on Apple's website. But that doesn't mean it is time to call off the lawsuit against Apple. Test-Aankoop will first assess what actually has changed, De Halleux said, adding that it is a bit premature to comment on the changes just yet. Because of the nature of the Internet, everything can change at any moment and the same is true for uploaded guarantee policies, he noted. "We are looking for a solution for the long term. So we want to have some kind of commitment from Apple," he said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Apple is also under scrutiny from the European Commission for its warranty policies. In March, Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Apple is not informing consumers correctly about the legal warranty rights they have in at least 21 countries.

Reding wrote to consumer ministers in all E.U. countries in September urging them to take action. She did so after Apple was fined €900,000 (US$1.2 million) by the Italian authorities for not providing consumers with sufficient information about the E.U.'s two-year warranty rights, instead pushing them to buy AppleCare.

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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