AppleCare may be mis-sold in Europe

European officials are urging national consumer regulators to check that Apple isn’t misleading customers over the usefulness of its AppleCare protection. It follows a $1.2 million fine for violations in Italy.

European consumer law, which applies in all European Union member countries, automatically gives buyer a minimum of two years’ warranty on products. During the period retailers must arrange for repairs or replacements for any products that have a manufacturing fault. The rules usually apply to retailers rather than manufacturers, though in Apple’s case that’s often the same thing.

The problem is that Apple has been advertising only a one-year warranty (the same as it offers in the United States), but encouraging buyers to take out AppleCare after this point.

The situation is slightly confusing as AppleCare offers protection beyond the legal minimum: it covers faults that develop after purchase while the European minimum warranty generally only covers faults that are judged to have existed at the time of purchase (even if they become noticeable or have any usability effects until later.)

However, officials say that by not mentioning the two-year minimum, Apple is misleading buyers who don’t realize that at least part of their first year’s AppleCare (covering the second year after purchase) involves paying for protection Apple has to offer anyway.

Italy fined Apple over the issue last December. Now the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has written to all EU governments asking them to check Apple advertising in their country. She has the power to force a government to take action, though the level of any punishment is up to the country itself.

Apple has pointed out that its website details the mandatory and optional protections available to European buyers. However, the EU wants Apple to make the point much more clearly at the point of purchase when buyers decide whether or not to take AppleCare.

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