“Error 53,” as it’s known, has affected potentially thousands of iPhone 6 owners, The Guardian reports, saying that the error completely bricks (i.e. to render inert) your smartphone beyond repair.
Antonio Olmos, a freelance photographer, recounts having to repair his iPhone at a “local shop” while on assignment in Macedonia for the publication. The fixed phone worked just fine until Olmos updated the device, which then proceeded to lock him out, forcing him to get a replacement.
“How can a company deliberately make their own products useless with an upgrade and not warn their own customers about it?” said Olmos. “Apple stores are few and far between, and damaged phones can only be brought back to life by small third-party repairers.”
The error occurs with iPhones that have their Touch ID sensor, which allow users to unlock their phone with a fingerprint, replaced by some third-party repair services. However, some users have reported that even replacing a cracked screen can trigger the error.
An Apple spokesperson told The Guardian that this issue stems from security concerns, explaining that fingerprint data stored on the touch sensor is also paired with data stored on a secure enclave. Data from both components must remain intact in order for the phone to give the all-clear, meaning that unauthorized repairs could break that pairing.
Should that occur, the security check in the phone fails, locking it up and making data inside impossible to access. The spokesperson went on to mention that this failed check can occur after a subsequent software update following the repair, causing “Error 53” to trigger.
The Apple spokesperson also clarified that any “unauthorized repair provider, faulty screens, or other invalid components that affect the Touch ID sensor could cause the check to fail.”
Though these security measures allow services such as Apple Pay to work safely, The Guardian explores concerns that the protocol also functions as a non-compete clause – forcing users to exclusively go through Apple when their phones need servicing.
Kyle Wiens of iFixit.com estimates that the troubleshooting page on his website for Error 53 has somewhere near 183,000 hits.
While those numbers could prompt Apple to figure out a way to reverse affected phones, the company’s warranty on the iPhone 6 has strict policies against third-party parts to begin with, at least in the US.