The Federal Trade Commission has accepted an agreement, subject to final approval, to a proposed consent order from Apple Computer, Inc. (hereinafter "Apple" or "respondent"). Apple is a major manufacturer and marketer of personal computer hardware and software products.
The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for sixty (60) days for the reception of comments by interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public record. After sixty (60) days, the Commission will again review the agreement and any comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement and take other appropriate action or make final the agreement's proposed order.
This matter has focused on Apple's advertisements for its "Apple Assurance" program. Under Apple Assurance, which Apple offered on most of its hardware products from September 1992 to April 1996, consumers who purchased Apple products in the United States were entitled to free access to technical support personnel for as long as they owned their Apple product. In October 1997, however, Apple began charging Apple Assurance consumers $35 for such access. Accordingly, the proposed complaint alleges that the company falsely claimed that Apple Assurance customers would have access to Apple technical support personnel, at no charge, for as long as that customer owns the product.
The proposed order contains cease and desist provisions as well as complete redress for consumers harmed by Apple's conduct. Part I of the proposed order would prevent Apple from misrepresenting the terms of any technical support service offered in conjunction with any product.
Part II would require that the company reinstate its promise to Apple Assurance
customers, and provide live, free technical support for as long as they own their
computers. Specifically, this provision requires that the company provide access to
complimentary technical support personnel, toll-free, to each "eligible person"
who provides the valid serial number of a "covered product" for as long as such
person owns the covered product. The order defines "eligible person" as any
original owner, or member of the owner's immediate family, who purchased a "covered
product. A "covered product" is an Apple product sold in the United States
between September 1992 and April 1996. Appendix A to the order includes a list of all
models sold during this period of time. Under the terms of Part II of the order, Apple
would be permitted to suggest that an eligible person seek answers to questions via less
expensive means (such as through pre-recorded phone trees, the Internet, or product
manuals), as long as the person always has the option of speaking to live technical
The proposed order also requires the respondent to maintain materials relied upon to substantiate claims covered by the order; to provide a copy of the consent agreement to all employees or representatives with duties affecting compliance with the terms of the order; to notify the Commission of any changes in corporate structure that might affect compliance with the order; and to file one or more reports detailing compliance with the order.
The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order, and it is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreement and proposed order, or to modify in any way their terms.