Apple faces EU-wide probes into misleading warranty practices

Justice Commissioner asks member states to examine Apple's selling tactics

Apple's warranty offerings could be pulled in the European Union in the wake of inquiries the E.U. Justice Commissioner is making into possible misleading sales practices, also known as misselling.

On Tuesday the international tech giant announced that it had stopped selling AppleCare in Italy as of Nov. 9. Earlier this year, the company was handed a ¬900,000 (US$1.15 million) fine by the Italian Antitrust Authority for not providing consumers with information regarding their E.U.-protected warranty rights and instead pushing their own paid-for warranty, AppleCare.

Now it has emerged that Commissioner Viviane Reding wrote to all 27 E.U. countries on Sept. 21, asking them to "examine closely Apple's advertising of product warranty practices" for any similar misleading behavior.

In Italy, Apple was warned for not putting E.U. mandates on its retail packaging. A disclaimer was finally added to the boxes following an unsuccessful appeal of the ruling in March.

Reding's office confirmed that she has received complaints from consumer organizations in 11 member states (Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain) as well as several members of the European Parliament.

Under E.U. consumer law, buyers are automatically entitled to a free minimum two-year warranty. Different sanctions exist in E.U. countries for violations of consumer protection law -- for example fines, as in the case of Italy.

The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive states in part that, "member states shall lay down penalties for infringements of national provisions adopted in application of this Directive and shall take all necessary measures to ensure that these are enforced. These penalties must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive."

In Italy, Apple appears to have been so "dissuaded" that it has withdrawn the product altogether -- although it is still available to buy online.

Apple said its one-year AppleCare service is superior to the E.U.-required two-year warranty as it includes three months' telephone support and covers defects that arise after delivery, but customers may not feel the same.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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