U.S., French Officials Scrutinize Apple Over Handling of iPhone Battery Issues

Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple / Getty Images

Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, on Tuesday pressed Apple Inc. to answer several questions about how the tech giant has handled battery-related performance issues on iPhones, joining French officials who have launched an investigation into the matter.

Thune sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook asking whether the company has taken certain steps after it apologized last month for throttling back iPhone processing performance in phones with older batteries, according to the Wall Street Journal, which viewed a copy of the letter.

In the letter, Thune asked how Apple has tracked customer complaints related to processing performance and if the company has explored offering rebates to customers who paid full price for a battery replacement before it offered discounted rates last month.

Apple came under fire early last month when customers and tech analysts said they had noticed a slowdown in the performance of older iPhones. The company then acknowledged publicly that it slowed the performance of iPhone 6, 6s, SE, and 7 models through software tweaks as batteries age to prevent the devices from unexpectedly shutting down. Bloggers and technology pundits criticized Apple for not disclosing the practice sooner, and the company apologized late last month, saying it would slash the costs for some iPhone battery replacements from $79 to $29.

Thune is not the only one seeking to learn more about Apple's handling of battery-related performance issues in iPhones.

In France, the Paris prosecutor's office said it has launched an investigation into Apple for potential deception and "programmed obsolescence," the Journal reported. A spokesman for the office said Tuesday that the consumer protection agency that falls under France's Finance Ministry will run the investigation, which could lead to preliminary charges or be dropped.

The French investigation stems from a complaint that a French consumer group under the name of Stop Programmed Obsolescence filed in December. The group claims that Apple pressures customers to buy new phones by slowing down older phones.

Apple did not respond to the Journal‘s requests for comment on Tuesday.

Government scrutiny of Apple comes as customers are complaining about the company's battery-replacement plan. Some customers have said they had to wait a week to schedule an appointment, and others showed up at an Apple store only to be told the store was out of batteries.

As Apple works to win back customer trust, the company is expected to take a financial hit. Barclays analysts recently wrote that Apple's plan to offer $29 battery replacements could cost the company $10.29 billion in lost revenue and lead the tech giant to sell as many as 16 million fewer iPhones.