A class-action lawsuit, filed in a California court on Thursday, alleges Apple intentionally broke FaceTime in a bid to force users of iOS devices to upgrade to iOS 7. The suit claims Apple made the move in order to save money on a data services contract it had with Akamai, rendering older hardware, such as the iPhone 4 and 4S, useless.
Seemingly spawned from internal Apple documents disclosed during the VirnetX patent infringement lawsuit, which found Apple on the hook for $302.4 million in damages, the California action claims Apple intentionally broke FaceTime for devices running iOS 6 and earlier to avoid high monthly data relay charges from Akamai.
When Apple launched FaceTime in 2010, the video chat app used two methods of connecting iPhone users. One method used peer-to-peer technology, creating a direct connection to transmit audio and video. The second method used a “relay method” which made use of third-party servers owned and operated by Akamai to make the connection.
At first, the FaceTime connections routed through Akamai’s accounted for only a small amount of the app’s traffic, but traffic through Akamai greatly increased, following a November 2012 jury verdict that the direct peer-to-peer method used in the lion’s share of FaceTime conversation infringed on patents owned by VirnetX. Apple was ordered to pay a $368 million judgment.
Apple began routing all of the FaceTime traffic via Akamai’s server, thus greatly increasing the amount the Cupertino firm was paying to the third-party relay team. (Testimony from a 2016 VirnetX retrial set those fees at around $50 million between April 2013 and September 2013.) Those payments became a source of concern for Apple, which then began to explore other methods to connect FaceTime users.
With the release of iOS 7, Apple offered a method of creating a peer-to-peer connection for FaceTime that did not infringe on the VirnetX patents. Unfortunately, according to the lawsuit, some users did not upgrade from iOS 6 and continued to run up charges for Apple at Akamai.
Lawsuit Claims Apple ‘Broke’ FaceTime on Purpose
The lawsuit cites emails and sworn testimony from the VirnetX trial in alleging Apple came up with a plan to “break” FaceTime on iOS 6 and earlier version of the mobile operating system by forcing a vital digital certificate to expire prematurely. Apple allegedly pushed the “FaceTime Break” on April 16, 2014, publicly blaming the resulting issues with FaceTime on a bug.
An Apple support document at the time states:
If you started to have issues making or receiving FaceTime calls after April 16, 2014, your device or your friend’s device may have encountered a bug resulting from a device certificate that expired on that date. Updating both devices to the latest software will resolve this issue.
AppleInsider notes the referenced support page has been revised a number of times since it was originally posted, and no longer mentions the bug.
The lawsuit also cites an email conversation from Apple engineers as evidence the company “broke” FaceTime on purpose, due to the rising costs of using Akamai’s servers.
“Hey, guys. I’m looking at the Akamai contract for next year. I understand we did something in April around iOS 6 to reduce relay utilization,” said an Apple engineering manager. In response, another engineer said, “It was a big user of relay bandwidth. We broke iOS 6, and the only way to get FaceTime working again is to upgrade to iOS 7.”
Apple’s own developer page showed an iOS 7 adoption rate of 87% on April 7, 2014, with iOS 6 running on only 11% of compatible devices, making the lawsuit’s claims somewhat questionable.
The lawsuit seeks to prove Apple violated California’s unfair competition law and seeks undisclosed damages.