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Apple Loses Bid To Dismiss FaceTime App Lawsuit

— July 31, 2017

Apple Loses Bid To Dismiss FaceTime App Lawsuit

Apple Inc. bid to dismiss a lawsuit — and lost.  The suit claimed it disabled its FaceTime video conferencing app on older iPhones in order to force users into upgrading to newer models.  By allegedly disabling this popular feature, the many who relied on it had no choice but to go spend the money needed for a new phone.  It has also been noted that Apple, in turn, saved money from routing calls through servers owned by Akamai Technologies Inc.  

FaceTime is essentially a video chat application.  Apple bought the “FaceTime” name from FaceTime Communications, who changed their name to Actiance, Inc., upon acquisition.  The company has advertised the app was being capable with iPhone 4 and later models, iPad 2, iPod Touch, or Mac computer.  A user hoping to engage in video conferencing needs only to contact someone who also has access to one of these devices.  The app is widely used by business professional and students for meeting purposes.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled last Friday that iPhone 4 and 4S users can pursue their nationwide class action claims.  She also rejected Apple’s claims that the plaintiffs suffered no economic hardship because the FaceTime app is a “free” service.

Apple Loses Bid To Dismiss FaceTime Lawsuit
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Apple began utilizing Akamai’s servers after losing a lawsuit filed in 2012 by VirnetX Holding Corp, which alleged that FaceTime technology infringed upon the company’s patents.  Apple paid Akamai $50 million in a six-month period, eventually creating a cheaper alternative for its iOS 7 operating system, according to plaintiffs, thereby disabling FaceTime on iOS 6 and earlier systems in April 2014.  

At the time, Apple blamed a technical “bug” linked to an expired certificate on having to transfer systems, but subsequently revised its support pages to drop references to why changes were implemented.  In emails from that lawsuit suit, engineers indicated they were aware the company “did something in April around iOS 6 to reduce relay utilization,” making direct references to Akamai and users having to upgrade to iOS 7 to get FaceTime back.

Judge Koh stated that Cupertino, Cailfornia-based customers who are plaintiffs in the suit had noted measurable loss to their devices’ values, and could try to demonstrate that Apple’s conduct constitutes as trespassing, violating the state’s consumer protection laws.  An internal employee’s email indicated that iOS 6 users are “basically screwed”.  

Judge Koh quoted from this email, adding, “FaceTime is a ‘feature’ of the iPhone and thus and a component of the iPhone’s cost.  Indeed, Apple advertised FaceTime as ‘one more thing that makes an iPhone an iPhone.’”  In other words, the cost of FaceTime is built into the phone’s sticker price.  Therefore, Apple’s argument that it is a “free” service is unfounded.  It should be accessible to users because these users paid for it to be included when they purchased their devices.  FaceTime is part of the package.

The specifics of the lawsuit, including the potential financial impact to the technology giant, remain unclear.  Apple’s support pages do include detailed step-by-step instructions for restoring FaceTime if a user loses access.  Reports have stated that 11 percent of models operating under the old system still have access to FaceTime.


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