February 9, 2016 9:56 am
Updated: February 9, 2016 12:26 pm

Error 53: iPhones repaired by third parties rendered useless after iOS 9 update

Thousands of iPhone users have been affected by something called Error 53. Nicole Bogart reports.

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If you had your iPhone’s home button repaired by an unauthorized third party, you are at risk of falling victim to “Error 53” – an issue that turns your iPhone into nothing more than a paperweight.

The widespread issue, which permanently disables any iPhone that has had the Touch ID fingerprint scanner replaced by a non-Apple certified source, now affects thousands of users around the world.

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Apple has maintained that Error 53 is designed to protect its customers from security threats; however, customer outrage is mounting as iPhone users claim the company has destroyed their personal property without warning.

What is Error 53 and who is affected?

The issue affects iPhone and iPad models with the Touch ID fingerprint sensor – including the iPhone 5S, 6 and 6S – that have been repaired by an unauthorized third party, or non-official company.

In other words, if you took your phone to a non-Apple certified repair shop to fix your home button, you are at risk.

Error 53 occurs when the user attempts to update their phone’s software to the latest version of iOS 9.

Once the update is installed, the phone is rendered useless – only displaying the “Error 53” message. All of the data on the phone, including photos and videos, is lost.

The issue began affecting users in September 2015, when iOS 9 was released; however, outrage over the issue is mounting thanks to a recent report by The Guardian.

“Late in 2015, I accidentally damaged the screen on my iPhone 6. I called Apple to book a repair but due to the iPhone 6S launch they were unable to offer me an appointment in under 2 weeks in any 3 of the stores that are within 30 miles of here,” Bath, England resident Jack White told Global News via email.

“Phone and mobile Internet are absolutely essential to my business so I was forced to get my iPhone 6 screen replaced by a local phone repair shop.”

READ MORE: Has Apple’s iPhone success reached its peak?

According to White, the repair shop explained that the repair would void his warranty with Apple, which he accepted. However, he said he had no idea he would risk losing all of his personal data.

“I totally accept that third party repairs will invalidate Apple warranty but actually destroying my property just doesn’t seem right. I think this will mean the end of my entire family’s relationship with Apple and I’m hoping Apple [will] face legal action over this,” he said.

But the issue could also affect users that had faulty Touch ID fingerprint scanners and did not receive any repairs on their phone.

In some cases, users said they experienced Error 53 after the home button was physically damaged.

“My touch ID stopped working on my iPhone 6S, I contacted Apple to fix it but the wait time was 45 days, I didn’t have that time to be without my phone so I held off. On Christmas Day I decided to backup my iPhone and update the iOS – I had just [gotten] married the week before and had loads of photos I did not want to lose,” Katie NicGabhann told Global News via email.

“Error 53 started showing during backup and there was no way to resolve it.”

To make matters worse, when NicGabhann sent her phone to Apple to see if the issue could be resolved, she was told a scratch on the phone’s screen had voided the warranty.

Why is this happening?

According to Apple, Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to make sure your phone is secure.

“We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers,” read a statement issued to Global News.

“iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor in your iPhone or iPad correctly matches your device’s other components. If iOS finds a mismatch, the check fails and Touch ID, including for Apple Pay use, is disabled.”

An Apple spokesperson said this security measure is “necessary to protect your device” and to ensure that a fraudulent Touch ID sensor hasn’t been installed in your phone.

Repairs from unauthorized third party repair centers will usually work fine – but the parts aren’t certified by Apple, which means they fail these security checks.

Of course, because the parts aren’t Apple certified you can’t guarantee they are secure, a risk some consumers are willing to take – others are forced to.

The problem is not every Apple customer is able to access an Apple store or an Apple authorized repair centre in the event their iPhone needs repairing. Apple does offer a mail-in service option, but that takes time.

Take for example freelance photographer Antonio Olmos, who was on assignment for The Guardian in Macedonia when he dropped his iPhone. He was left with no choice but to take his phone to a local shop where they repaired his cracked screen and the home button, which worked fine until he upgraded to iOS 9.

“The whole thing is extraordinary. How can a company deliberately make their own products useless with an upgrade and not warn their own customers about it? Outside of the big industrialised nations, Apple stores are few and far between, and damaged phones can only be brought back to life by small third-party repairers,” Olmos told The Guardian.

One iPhone user told Global News his device has been bricked for over two months, but he has been unable to resolve the issue with Apple due to where he lives.

“I live in Pakistan so there is no official apple store here. I bought it from Islamabad [where] there is a renowned store who only deals in Apple products,” said Adil Ajmal in an email. “[A] $600 phone is now lying worthless.”

Here in Canada, although there are Apple Stores in major cities, consumers who live in remote areas may be left with no choice but to go to a third-party to repair their iPhone.

Similarly, consumers often choose to repair their phones at unauthorized places like iRepair.ca – which only charges $80 for a home button replacement – simply because it can save them up to $200.

READ MORE: Apple’s iOS 9.3 update might help you sleep better

Some have pointed out that Apple has not been clear with consumers about the repercussions of getting their iPhone repaired by a non-official repair centre.

Global News has asked Apple to clarify whether the company informs its customers that they may face repercussions if they take their device to be repaired at a third party. An Apple spokesperson declined to comment further.

However, it’s important to note that Apple does note that unauthorized repairs “including faulty installation, repair or maintenance by anyone other than Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider” will void the warranty in its terms of service.

Although Apple’s support page offers suggestions on how to remedy the issue, there does not appear to be a fix for Error 53 at this time.

Meanwhile, whispers of impending lawsuits over the Error 53 issue have been reported by The Guardian.

If you want to avoid being affected by an issue like Error 53, you might want to consider visiting an Apple authorized service provider for your next repair, even though it will cost you more than the unauthorized locations.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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