back to article Italian competition watchdog slaps Apple with €10m fine over allegedly misleading iPhone waterproofing claims

The Italian competition authority (AGCM, or Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato) has fined Apple €10m (£8.97m/ $12m) over allegations it misled customers about the waterproofing qualities of its iMobes. The complaint [PDF] pertains to the iPhone 8, iPhone X, and iPhone 11 blowers, which Cupertino touted as having …

  1. Martin Silver badge

    "...the watchdog has also ordered Apple to publish a statement on its Italian homepage, as well as the page for the iPhone."

    Which Apple will do. Except that it'll be on the bottom of the page where you have to scroll down to find it, and the page won't be obviously scrollable so no-one will know it's there.

    Judging by last time they were forced to publish a statement.

    1. Victor Ludorum

      What I want to know is

      Does the statement have to be in an intelligible language?

      I presume it won't be in a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard'.

      1. Tigra 07
        Devil

        Re: What I want to know is

        They'll hide the note at the bottom of a webpage and write it in Wingdings!

        1. DJV Silver badge

          write it in Wingdings...

          ...in white on a white background.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They tried that once in Oz after a court ordered them to put a notice on their website about warranties and the Australian Consumer Law Guarantee. It was originally buried at the bottom of an obscure page. The judge was not amused and hauled them back into court. They were told to do it again properly with the size and location of the notice dictated to them.

  2. Wellyboot Silver badge

    After a short dive in sea water.

    These models wouldn't fit into budgie smugglers, so attempting to take an underwater action selfie?

    Is there any possibility that a court would consider 'waterproof' to (by implication) include the types of water you would expect to encounter day-to-day?

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Re: After a short dive in sea water.

      It depends upon lots of factors, namely:

      The type of water you drop the phone into.

      How long you left it in the water.

      (Italian section)

      How much you pay your lawyer

      How well your lawyer knows the judge

      How much money the judge would like as a small appreciation of his hard work.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: After a short dive in sea water.

      > Is there any possibility that a court would consider 'waterproof' to (by implication) include the types of water you would expect to encounter day-to-day?

      Apple never said 'waterproof', they said 'water resistant'. Just as a water resistant jacket will soak through after a while, but a waterproof coat won't. The distinction has been in common use in clothing and watches for decades, the clue is in the words.

      However, it seems people do confuse the two (indeed, your good self read 'resistant' in the article yet still wrote 'proof' in your comment), so clearer communication wouldn't hurt. Especially so since similar claims have been made against Sony and Samsung in the past. In Sony's case it was the fault of their marketing department, since it showed people actively using the phones in a swimming pool to take pictures under water.

      Hint: water with chlorine (as well as salt, detergent etc) is very not good for phones.

      1. Marjolica

        Re: After a short dive in sea water.

        "Dive" is also pertinent here. "waterproof to 2m" implies at static pressure, if you dive into water then the effective pressure is much higher, ditto, but to a lesser extent if you are swimming with it. If you ever look at the info about waterproof watches you are usually wanting a 50m or 100m rating if you intend to swim wearing your watch.

        Doesn't mean that Apple's advertising isn't misleading.

      2. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: After a short dive in sea water.

        @dave126, ah yes, weasel marketing, I did indeed miss that on my quick read through.

        So a more accurate explaination of water resistant for warranty use would be "can be be wiped with a damp cloth using distilled water"

      3. Tim Greenwood

        Re: After a short dive in sea water.

        IP68 has a fairly specific meaning, or at least it did when I was dealing with ingress protection of industrial products. Maybe it's different in the consumer world and IP68 means whatever you want.

      4. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: After a short dive in sea water.

        "Apple never said 'waterproof', they said 'water resistant'. Just as a water resistant jacket will soak through after a while, but a waterproof coat won't. The distinction has been in common use in clothing and watches for decades, the clue is in the words."

        There's no such thing as waterproof; everything will let water through eventually, it's only ever a question of the pressure at which that happens. There is no such distinction between a waterproof coat and a water resistant one, they're just labelled with the actual static head they can cope with. There is also no such distinction for watches - the ISO standard actually bans any use of the term "waterproof", standards-compliant watches are only ever water resistant to some defined pressure or depth.

        As for what Apple said, their words aren't actually particularly relevant. It's not made clear in this article but is elsewhere, the BBC for example, that this was actually about false advertising. Apple could have said anything they liked, the issue is that their adverts actually showed phones getting wey in real-world situations that were never tested and which the warranty did not cover. Pointless wrangling about the exact meaning of "resistant" never came into it - whether they said resistant, proof, cited an IP rating, or whatever, the problem was that their advertising gave a very different impression of what their products could handle. Using the correct weasel words in the small print doesn't protect you from that, even if we were discussing a case where the weasels were technically correct.

    3. SW10

      Re: After a short dive in sea water.

      I dropped my new-gen SE into the melting ice caressing a bottle of rosé.

      As far as the Apple store were concerned, the tell-tales had changed colour, therefore it was my fault. Logic I still don’t follow.

      Here’s a thing though; the symptom was a non-working home button. After getting by with the virtual button for some weeks, I exposed the phone to too much sunshine.

      Problem solved

      1. DRue2514

        Re: After a short dive in sea water.

        Similar thing happened to me with an 8. I opened it out and dried it, usual thing with the silica packs. The phone starting working without the home button but after a few weeks it came back to life. Luckily as the virtual button was getting really annoying by then.

    4. Dinanziame Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: After a short dive in sea water.

      I went diving for an hour in the sea with my Pixel 2, filming the fishes... It still works, but the USB connectors got damaged; it now only charges with some cables and not others.

      The salt water is more corrosive, and the connectors are outside of the phone; but shouldn't electronic components and the rest be safe?

      1. Bowlers

        Re: After a short dive in sea water.

        "The salt water is more corrosive, and the connectors are outside of the phone; but shouldn't electronic components and the rest be safe?"

        Not if Apple are using the wrong sort of glue.

  3. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Saline seawater is markedly worse for a phone than, say, the liquid in your toilet bowl.

    Hm, not so sure about that...

    1. TRT Silver badge

      What’s the IPee rating though?

  4. codejunky Silver badge

    Well

    It kinda depends on the claims made. Salt water is not water, and yes it is more corrosive. I would expect IP68 to be of reasonable tolerance to water and dust but that doesnt mean you swim with it.

    Apparently Sony was caught out by an advert showing their phone being used underwater which they then went on to tell people it isnt designed to be used underwater.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Well

      Salt water is not water

      You learn something new every day.

      1. Claverhouse Silver badge

        Re: Well

        Guess the Planet is isn't 70% covered in water, then.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Well

          If someone asked for a glass of water and was given a glass containing a mixture of water and salt, they'd be rightly naffed-off.

          If you sold such a mixture as water, you'd face sanctions.

          A mixture of two things is not one of those things. It is a mixture. Purple paint is not red paint. Mortar is not sand.

          1. IGotOut Silver badge

            Re: Well

            So is mineral water not water?

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Re: Well

              My ex was shocked to find her new kettle furring up like crazy when she had been using bottled mineral water. “But this water’s supposed to be safer and free of impurities”

              *facepalm*

          2. monty75

            Re: Well

            At a molecular level, water is a mixture of two things.

            1. Martin Silver badge
              Headmaster

              Re: Well

              I hate to be pedantic (well, no, I don't really) but at a molecular level, water is a mixture of one thing - H2O molecules. At an atomic level, it's a mixture of two things.

          3. Falmari Silver badge

            Re: Well

            So, it is not water that comes out of my tap, as it contains fluoride. Even without fluoride being added it would still contain some fluoride.

            If we look at it your way, then because most water is not pure it can’t be called water as it is a mixture of 2 or more things. I don’t think so. River water is still water, tap water is still water and sea water is still water.

            But even if we do make a distinction, as Apple don’t make the distinction, then saying water resident must include all water.

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: Well

              Salt water is not water, it is a mixture of water and salt. Salt water has a different density to water, it has a lower freezing point and a higher boiling point. It is more corrosive. It will kill many plants.

              Even if you're designing ships, salt water is not water - ships have plimsoll markings on their hulls for waters of varying salinity.

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: Well

                Saltwater is water. It's just not freshwater. Seawater is a subset of saltwater.

                IP ratings are of course related to INGRESS PROTECTION not damage to the product.

              2. Falmari Silver badge
                Devil

                Re: Well

                "Salt water is not water, it is a mixture of water and salt. " Then Dave there is very little water in this world as nearly all water is a mixture, none of it is pure.

                Drinking water, tap water, river water, rain water, sea water, mineral water, the list goes on they are all a mixture. But they are all still water, the clue is in the name and the name of that clue is water.

      2. Alumoi Silver badge

        Re: Well

        Free tip: water is wet.

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Well

      When is water not water? When it’s been turned into wine by a Jesus mobe.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Well

        @TRT

        Should have used the joke icon because thats pretty good.

        But salt water is a corrosive, quite a serious one. If you add something to water to make it corrosive you expect it to not be just water any more. Get me a 'glass of water' is pretty normal request, but if you drink it and its salt water you expect to have a totally different (opposite) reaction as drinking clean water.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well

          But water is a corrosive, quite a serious one.

          FTFY. Water is a well known solvent and more-or-less is never pure. Thus will be corrosive due to the presence of ions. Unless you are using UPW for manufacturing etc. . It is the electrical properties of salt water that make the difference here. This salt water corrosion excuse is a smokescreen in this given argument. Are people attacking the water companies for not supplying pure water? And by the way drinking actual pure water (UPW) is not advisable

        2. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Well

          I was surprised to see the article wasn't sub-headed "Jesus-mobe turns water into whines".

          The Reg must be slacking.

    3. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
      Joke

      Re: Well

      "Salt water is not water."

      You're Rudy Giuliani and I claim my $5.

      In cash.

      Behind the landscapers.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Own Goal

    Reminds me of when one of the multinational burger bars ws taken to court because its coffee cups didn't warn people that hot coffee is hot.

    Apple's advertising water resistance was a clear own-goal. I don't think many people would have been persuaded to buy an iPhone instead of another make, but they were opening themselves up to actions like this. I'm surprised the Italians beat the USAians to it. Put an IP rating in the specs but don't boast about water resistance and then exclude liability for repairs to water damage.

    1. John McCallum

      Re: Own Goal

      Reminds me of when one of the multinational burger bars ws taken to court because its coffee cups didn't warn people that hot coffee is hot.Ahh that chestnut AGAIN that coffee was if I remember correctly was just below boiling point and gave the woman very serious burns to her crotch try boiling your bollocks and see how it feels.

      1. Kernel

        Re: Own Goal

        "Ahh that chestnut AGAIN that coffee was if I remember correctly was just below boiling point "

        Which is the correct temperature for coffee - coffee enthusiasts (and I include myself in that category) go to a lot of trouble to ensure that the coffee emerging from the porta-filters on our expensive machines is in the region of 97 degrees Celsius (with small variations to get the best out of a specific bean/roast).

        1. DavidRa

          Re: Own Goal

          Yes, but we dont then keep it at 97C despite being told that it is too hot and goes against policy which states it is supposed to be 80C. And continue doing so after complaints that it was too hot, because it saves $2 in replacing it over the course of the day.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Own Goal

          "coffee enthusiasts (and I include myself in that category) "

          Coffista? Cophile? Coffetishist? ...

          1. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
            Windows

            Re: Own Goal

            Covfefe? Could be --------------->

      2. eldakka Silver badge

        Re: Own Goal

        Ahh that chestnut AGAIN that coffee was if I remember correctly was just below boiling point and gave the woman very serious burns
        Not to mention where this happened has health and safety/food service regulations that explicitly specify how hot takeaway beverages are allowed to be. And not only did this store exceed those regulations, they had already been cited for exceeding those regulations and been ordered to stop serving coffee that hot.

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: Own Goal

          Yes - it was the very strange (to my mind*) regs about temperatures that got them.

          * If I want a hot drink, I want a *hot drink*, not something just above fresh dishwater.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Own Goal

            >> not something just above fresh dishwater.

            So not a big English tea fan then?

            1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

              Re: Own Goal

              Actually, no! Putting cold milk in a hot drink baffles me!

          2. eldakka Silver badge

            Re: Own Goal

            * If I want a hot drink, I want a *hot drink*, not something just above fresh dishwater.

            This regulation applies specifically to drive-through takeaways where hot beverages in flimsy disposable cups are being passed through windows to the drivers of vehicles where the chance of spillage is very high. That is precisely why the regulation was developed, to avoid the specific circumstance - driver spilling beverage on themselves doing 3rd-degree burns that required skin-grafts - that occured. AFAIK that regulation doesn't apply to dine-in service using proper re-useable crockery where the customer is sitting at a table, not behind the wheel of a multi-ton death machine.

    2. Outski Bronze badge

      Re: Own Goal

      I think in that case, the original award was massively reduced because the plaintiff exercised zero common sense, holding the cup between her knees while driving. However, burgercorp was found to have a modicum of liability for serving coffee at temperatures with scalding potential should the drinker be an absolute blithering idiot.

    3. jmch Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Own Goal

      "don't boast about water resistance and then exclude liability for repairs to water damage"

      This

    4. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Own Goal

      I am sure Apple is aware of the potential difference between the profits from an allegedly water resistant phone and the fines when it's realised it's not.

    5. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Own Goal

      > I don't think many people would have been persuaded to buy an iPhone instead of another make, but they were opening themselves up to actions like this.

      You're right to see that Apple's decision to advertise water resistance was an act of weighing up pros and cons. And you're right in that one feature or absence of feature *alone* is unlikely cause someone to buy (and adjust to) an Android alternative.

      However, for real hard data on how many people do switch to Apple or (use an alternative phone for several years before coming back to iOS), Apple's iCloud would appear to be a great resource. Pretty solid data. Then there are the more narrative factors to be included.

      Having your phone suddenly ruined by water might be the first time in years that you've had any reason to buy a new phone. And you might, after cursing your clumsy fingers, think to yourself 'Dang! if only that phone hadn't been killed by that glass of water I wouldn't now have to spend hundred(s) of dollars... Mmm and if my next phone could be waterproof that might save me this PITA and expense next time!' (i.e, we humans tend to prepare for the event that just occurred).

      Also, consider how much effort (i.e money) Apple have spent on associating themselves with being physically active (not just the heart rate monitor yadda yadda of the Apple Watch, but hardware collaborations with Nike). This *image* of Apple users as being fit outdoorsy types (young and free! Older and spry!) must be worth *something* to Apple. This image would be dented if Apple's phones, unlike Samsung's and Sony's water resistant flagship phones, just weren't considered as sensible options by the more enthusiastic members of aspirational sports (running, climbing, cycling, faffing about outdoors where the rain is) communities.

      If Apple took that *something* and weighed it against the cost of settling a few lawsuits here and there, and a slight reputational scuffing... they would have a decision. Of all the variables I've alluded to, Apple has access to a lot of data with which to sketch a model, from hard numbers about water damage return rates and Apple Care insurance,through to fuzzier stuff such analysis of market history.

      I'm not saying their analysis is perfect or infallible, or that their processes resemble any that I've sketched. Maybe this was a boo-boo for them, but maybe it was a known risk they'd calculated for. Some types of litigation risk Apple has insurance for, according to their annual report to the SEC.

  6. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Angel

    Indeed

    Davis: I saved a little money by buying bullet-resistant vests.

    Karen: Bullet resistant ? You ever sleep in a water resistant tent ? You get pretty wet.

    Corner Gas : Security Cam

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Indeed

      @Claverhouse

      Bullet proof vests are bullet resistant. They get a rating of what they should stop and then after that your on your own.

      There is a good youtube channel- tactical rifleman where they increase the spec of the weapons they use against a vest, exceeding its rating impressively. Unfortunately its one of their less serious ones as they are collaborating with another group who try to make it 'entertaining'- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3DTgU52rHw

  7. HildyJ Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Slap?

    This seems more like a tap on the shoulder with a whispered "be more discrete next time."

  8. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    IEC

    Isn't the IEC going to get tired of phone makers treating their IP ratings like garbage?

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: IEC

      The phones met the standards, since the standards specify water, not a mixture of water and salt (nor of water and acetone, or water and bleach, or grinding paste).

      The issue here is about communication, advertising and consumer expectations.

      This issue has occured before with Samsung and Sony. Then just as now, the phones in question met the standards. But how were they advertised? Was the standard prominently placed? Was it spelled out? How big was the text? Is it fair for assume the user has a level of technical knowledge (machines don't like chlorinated water, or what IP68 actually tests for), or does the user have a right to expect that a life jacket works in the sea?

      Y'know, fuzzy questions like that. Straight forward and easy to test questions (such as following a precudure under controlled conditions to see if X does Y) don't allow as much scope for wrangling, so tend not to be the focus of legal scuffles.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: IEC

        For IP68 rating the manufacturer is supposed to specify the conditions (depth, length of immersion, ...) used for the 'liquid ingress protection'.

        If nothing is specified then it has no meaning.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: IEC

      > Isn't the IEC going to get tired of phone makers treating their IP ratings like garbage?

      The phones, Sony, Apple and Samsung's, passed the tests as specified. How exactly is that treating the tests as garbage?

  9. Dabooka Silver badge

    IP68 you say?

    Well you learn something new every day

    Granted I don't have a working knowledge of the ratings (but know that IP44 is not the same as 68) but I genuinely would've thought that would have been okay for a quick accidental dip in the sea.

    1. General Purpose Bronze badge

      Re: IP68 you say?

      Well, yes and no. I wouldn't expect the seals of IP6x enclosures to be corroded by saltwater in only 30 minutes either. OTOH a quick dive into the sea could easily go deeper than two metres, even without sluicing the phone around or subjecting it to breaking wave-power.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: IP68 you say?

        This is true of course, I took it to mean more of an accidental slip whilst walking along. Not a dive per se.

    2. the Jim bloke Silver badge

      Re: IP68 you say?

      I had been looking for a replacement phone with good water resistance, and despite being Apple, i still considered the later offerings. However, in information available to Australians, at least, the apple phones IP68 rating was only valid to half a metres depth for some period of minutes - which means it would be beyond its depth in your boardies pocket while you were floating vertically with your head out of water..

      I am guessing different claims have been made in differing regions depending on how likely the locals might be to take one swimming..

      Still havent found a good 'beach phone', but seen some ads from LG which looked promising,

  10. Nifty Silver badge

    Salty water, is this the solution?

    If you realise you've dunked your supposedly 3m water resistant phone in seawater, wouldn't it be a good idea to plunge it into a bowl of distilled water afterward and give it a good slosh around? Then gently dry it out. That could even be in the instruction manual

  11. werdsmith Silver badge

    I was kind of hoping an iPhone would be safe to use in the rain, but the capacitive touch screen doesn’t work properly when it’s got a few raindrops on so I don’t bother. Ah well.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      @werdsmith

      I have an IP69 MIL-STD-810G compliant android and yet when the screen has water droplets its a bugger to get the screen to respond correctly. I think its more about survivability of the elements than user experience in miserable environments

  12. chivo243 Silver badge
    Go

    60 days to appeal

    It's a Date! Apple never misses an opportunity!

  13. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    We've asked Apple for comment on the AGCM's ruling and whether the company plans to appeal against it. ®

    And none will be forthcoming, as usual.

    Here's a quick way to resolve this problem. Ask the Capo di tutti capa to take a leisurely swim in the sea with his IP68-factor iThing and watch the fallout as the entire Mafia get sicced up against Apple...

    ...oh wait, Apple HQ is in the US of A...

    1. _LC_ Silver badge

      => "capo di tutti capi / capo dei capi"

      alternative: "capra" (female goat)

  14. Sceptic Tank Bronze badge
    Trollface

    Maybe this has been mentioned:

    Wasn't there an app a few years ago that you could install to make your iPhone waterproof? Did anybody check to see if it works?

  15. Aussie Doc Bronze badge
    Windows

    Wow

    Clearly he was holding it wrong. Like him ------------------>

    Or he wouldn't have dropped it.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just apple

    Is this just Apple, or a common issue across phone manufacturers .... sounds like the latter to me ....

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021