A federal judge has ruled that iPhone 4 and 4s users can pursue their class action lawsuit against Apple for intentionally disabling FaceTime on iOS 6 devices, Reuters reports. After losing a patent lawsuit to VirnetX in 2012, Apple was forced to discontinue its direct device-to-device mode for FaceTime, greatly increasing the fees it had to pay to Akamai Technologies — dropping as much as $50 million in one six-month period according to court documents. In developing iOS 7, Apple engineers were able to include a method of peer-to-peer FaceTime communication that didn’t infringe on the VirnetX patents, however, Apple was either unable to unwilling to bring these improvements into an iOS 6 update. Based on internal emails and sworn testimony from the VirnetX case, the new class-action lawsuit claims that Apple made plans to deliberately “break” FaceTime on older iOS versions by forcing a key digital certificate used for FaceTime to expire prematurely.
The lawsuit alleges that Apple implemented the “FaceTime Break” on April 16, 2014, blaming the sudden incompatibility on a bug, and advising users that they would need to update to the latest version of iOS to resolve the issue. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said the plaintiffs in the case could proceed with their efforts to prove that they had experienced “some measurable loss to their phones’ value” because of Apple’s actions and that Apple’s conduct “constituted a trespass and violated state consumer protection laws.” One particularly damning email from an Apple employee was cited twice in the hearing, with the writer admiting that iOS 6 users were “basically screwed” by the decision to disable FaceTime on their devices, and Koh rejected Apple’s claim that there was no economic loss since FaceTime is a “free” service. “FaceTime is a ‘feature’ of the iPhone and thus a component of the iPhone’s cost,” Koh said in a footnote. “Indeed, Apple advertised FaceTime as ‘one more thing that makes an iPhone an iPhone.’”