The claims cover more than 3m iPhone 6, iPhone 7 and iPhone SE models sold between 2014 and 2020 © AP

A consumer advocacy group is suing Apple for about €180m in four European countries for allegedly duping users into downloading updates that deliberately slowed down their iPhones.

The legal actions mirror a class action in the US that led to a proposed settlement there worth up to $500m, following allegations that Apple engineered the software updates to induce users to buy newer models. Apple agreed to the US settlement in March, admitting no wrongdoing but saying it wanted to avoid protracted litigation.

“Apple pushed updates to mask problems with the battery, knowing it would slow down phones,” said Els Bruggeman, head of policy and enforcement at Euroconsumers, the consumer advocacy group behind the new lawsuits.

European consumers, she said, “just want to be treated with the same respect that was given to consumers in the United States”.

Euroconsumers-affiliated groups are filing class-action lawsuits in Belgium and Spain on Wednesday, while additional lawsuits in Italy and Portugal are planned for the coming weeks.

US-style class-action cases do not exist for the continent as a whole but the individual filings could lead to a “snowball effect” across Europe, said Bart Volders, partner at Arcas Law, which is representing plaintiffs in Belgium.

“Experience shows that once one European country takes initiative, the others follow,” he said. 

The claims cover more than 3m iPhone 6, iPhone 7 and iPhone SE models sold in the four countries between 2014 and 2020.

In a letter to Euroconsumers from its lawyers at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, dated August 6, Apple said it would “never . . . degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades”. It called the allegations “factually and legally wrong”.

And in a statement to the Financial Times, it added: “Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.”

Following the first public outcries in 2017, Apple offered discounts for replacing batteries and issued an apology. It acknowledged slowing processor speeds, saying that it was trying to manage power on older phones to prevent unexpected shutdowns. 

France’s consumer watchdog fined Apple €25m in February for misleading consumers. In late 2018, Italy’s competition authority fined Apple €10m — its maximum penalty — after determining that software updates caused “serious malfunctions and significantly reduced their performance”. It also fined Samsung €5m over similar claims.

Euroconsumers alleges Apple engaged in unfair and misleading commercial practices and is asking for between €29 and €89 a phone — or €60 a unit on average. The compensation is based on battery replacement costs determined by Apple.

The proposed US settlement, which could be approved by a judge at a final hearing scheduled on Friday in San Jose, California calls for Apple to pay $25 a phone. 

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