Error 53 is “for your own good" says Apple. Experts disagree

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The latest update for Apple's iOS comes with a host of new features for iPhone owners everywhere, but there's one feature in particular that's causing headaches for even the most ardent fanboys.

Users have found their iPhones obsolete after having their screens or home buttons repaired when applying the update. The issue is being called the "Error 53" problem, and so far there's no fix.

According to Apple, the error is a way to ensure that the device's security hasn't been compromised, even if it means denying you access to your own photos. When phones are repaired by unauthorized Apple repair services, the iPhone 6 and 6 plus' touch sensor can't re-validate. With the latest iOS 9 update, it now bricks the phone when it can't validate the sensor, leaving many users with a nasty surprise.

A spokesman at Apple said: “When iPhone is serviced by an unauthorized repair provider, faulty screens or other invalid components that affect the Touch ID sensor could cause the check to fail if the pairing cannot be validated.  With a subsequent update or restore, additional security checks result in an Error 53 being displayed.”

Apple claim that without this unique pairing, the Touch ID sensor could be substituted in order to access a sensitive area of the phone known as a "Secure Enclave". The Secure Enclave is used for payment processing with Apple Pay.

“When iOS detects that the pairing fails, Touch ID including Apple Pay is disabled so the device remains secure,” according to Apple. People experiencing Error 53 are advised to contact Apple support.

Understandably Apple owners are furious. Previously working phones with repaired screens or sensors are being turned into expensive paperweights as a result of applying the update. Despite Apple's assertions that it's there to protect the security of the device, security experts remain unconvinced.

“Apple should stop the bricking in next iOS release and put a warning on the lock screen: warning your TouchID hardware is unauthorized,” said security researcher Stefan Esser. It would definitely make more sense to temporarily disable TouchID than the whole phone. Esser agrees: “Then people could just upgrade their phone and un-brick it this way.”

“I don't think [Apple's security claim is] a viable answer, I think it feels like they're tricking people into using their repair services,” said Craig Fox, organizer at the International World-Wide Jailbreakcon event in San Francisco. “My friend runs a repair company @mendmyi, and they're very careful in all repairs. I would trust them as much as Apple.”

In a subtle turn of events, it turns out that even repairs using authorized Apple parts from an authorized reseller can trigger the failure, suggests Kyle Wiens, co-founder of repair site iFixit, asserting that the issue is connected to the way new parts synchronize.

“The issue is that there's a calibration tool that we need that Apple isn't providing to the independent repair shops. Manufacturers like to take every opportunity they can to enforce their monopoly on repair,” says Wiens.

If that's the case, then the problem is particularly evident when people live in an area with no official Apple store. Using the official repair channel isn't always an option, and what appears to be Apple's attempt to own the repair market for its devices may even breach consumer protection laws.

PCVA, a US-based law firm is putting a class action lawsuit together to take on the Cupertino-based manufacturer. “Let’s say you bought a car, and had your alternator replaced by a local mechanic.  Under Apple’s strategy, your car would no longer start because you didn’t bring it to an official dealership.  They intentionally disable your car because you tried to fix it yourself”, say PCVA.

Apple has always believed in providing good products at the expense of fewer customization options but over recent years have become far more controlling over their customers' experience. As long as quality remains high, many owners won't mind, but deliberately destroying your customers' equipment is one business strategy that is unlikely to end well in the long-term.

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