Apple Could Face Scrutiny Over Standard Warranty Duration On Products In The EU

Apple has faced heat in Italy over its standard consumer product warranty, which offers consumers protection against manufacturer-caused defects and failures for one year, and now it looks like that might lead to even more trouble across the European Union, according to a new letter from EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. In the letter, Reding asks member countries to find out whether Apple might be failing to notify customers of their “automatic and free-of-cost entitlement to a minimum two-year guarantee under EU law.”

In the letter obtained by Bloomberg, Reding calls Apple’s practices “unacceptable,” a sentiment in keeping with an earlier decision by Italy’s Antitrust Authority to begin proceedings in July in order to get Apple to change its marketing tactics around warranties or else face fines and a potential product ban. That followed a $1.2 million fine last December from an Italian judicial body over how warranties were presented, which also changed practices on the Italian Apple website (Apple now alerts users about the two-year warranty).

The European Commission can’t go after Apple directly in order to investigate allegations of misleading advertising, but it can apparently pursue legal action against member countries that fail to hold up its rules. That means this strongly worded letter to member countries is essentially a message that others should follow Italy’s example.

Apple does have a page on its EU sites describing the statutory warranty, and also comparing it to Apple’s one-year warranty and the AppleCare extended warranty coverage, which incurs an added cost. The main difference between the three is that the EU regulated guarantee only applies to defects present when a consumer buys a device, and claims are handled through the seller, not necessarily through Apple directly.

Apple is right to point out that its plan and coverage differ from the EU warranty, but the Commissioner appears to take issue not with the fact that Apple sells its own warranty, but that consumers aren’t made aware of the one included by EU law on every product in a more upfront manner. This letter, combined with the Italian decision, could cause more headaches for Apple down the road, depending on how EU member states react to the suggestions it contains.

I’ve contacted Apple for more info or comment and will update when I hear more.