The ACCC sometimes does this in the case of “low hanging fruit”, as is the case with Apple, well known to be a company named after a piece of fruit that is famous for keeping the doctors away, although evidently not so good at keeping the lawyers away.
While the ACCC finds difficulty in finding evidence of collusion amongst the supermarket and petrol retailers in Australia, no such difficulties were present in the prosecution (and some might say persecution) of the world’s most valuable tech company.
As noted in the ACCC’s press release today, the ACCC convinced Australia’s Federal Court that Apple Pty Ltd had “contravened the Australian Consumer Law”, and as such, has been penalised AUD $2.25 million dollars, as well as being directed to pay the ACCC AUD $300,000 towards court costs.
The ACCC says “Apple promoted its new iPad as the “iPad with Wi-Fi + 4G” in Australia from 8 March to 12 May 2012 on its website, its online store and in its retail store”, and its retailers did too, although the ACCC’s press release makes no mention of the indisputable fact that Apple and its retail partners were explaining to customers that the 4G connectivity was for the US and Canada only.
However, given that the 4G iPad was not compatible with the Telstra 4G LTE network, even though it does indeed have a 4G chipset within the “cellular-class” iPads which do actually connect to 4G networks in the US and Canada, this lack of Australian compatibility was enough to see the ACCC and the Federal Court take decisive action.
The ACCC’s Chairman, Rod Sims, stated in the ACCC’s press release that: “The $2.25 million penalty reflects the seriousness of a company the size of Apple refusing to change its advertising when it has been put on notice that it is likely to be misleading consumers.
“The Federal Court has again recognized the need to protect consumers from misleading advertising in the telecommunications and related sectors. This decision should act as a renewed warning that the ACCC will continue to take action against traders who take risks in their advertising, regardless of their size.”
Indeed, Australian “Justice Bromberg” made the statement that Apple’s conduct was “serious and unacceptable” and that this conduct was “deliberate”, adding that: “Those who design global campaigns, and those in Australia who adopt them, need to be attuned to the understandings and perceptions of Australian consumers”.
Thus, we see that “contravention of section 3 of the Australian Consumer Law” occurred, a $2.25m fine applied and an additional $300,000 of ACCC costs contributed to, with Apple agreeing “to the declaration and consent[ing] to the penalties and other orders sought from the Court.”
The ACCC naturally “welcomes” the decision and boasts of its success in taking action against TPG, Harvey Norman and Optus for “similarly problematic conduct”.
Thus, no matter how powerful Apple is, and how much some people in Australia believe the decision to be unjustified, the Australian Consumer Law is the Law, and even toothless tigers can still have some bite.
If only they’d do a bit more biting in areas that genuinely affect the hip pockets of millions of Australians in addition to keeping tech companies under close scrutiny!