Why You Should Care About Your Right to Repair Gadgets
When your car is having trouble, your instinct is probably to take it to a mechanic. But when something is wrong with your smartphone – say a broken screen or a dead battery – you may ask yourself, “Is it time to buy a new one?” “
This is because even though our consumer electronics have become as vital as our cars, the idea of technological repair has still not been sown in our collective consciousness. Studies have shown that when technology products start to fail, most people are inclined to buy new things rather than fix their old ones.
“Repair is inconvenient and difficult, so people aren’t looking for it,” said Nathan Proctor, director of the US Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization, which is working on legislation to make technical repair more accessible. “Because people don’t expect to fix things, they replace things when the most logical thing to do is fix them. “
It doesn’t have to be that way. More of us could be servicing our technology products, like we do with cars, if it were more practical to do so. If we all had more access to the parts, instructions and tools to revive products, repairs would become easier and cheaper.
This premise is at the heart of the “right to redress” law, a bill that activists and tech companies have fought for for nearly a decade. Recently, supporters of the right to redress have won two major victories. In May, the Federal Trade Commission released a report explaining how tech companies were hurting competition by limiting repairs. And last Friday, President Biden issued an executive order that included a directive for the FTC to place limits on how tech makers could restrict repairs.
The FTC is scheduled to meet next week to discuss new policies on repairing electronic devices. Here’s what you need to know about fighting for your right to repair gadgets.
What is the act of right to reparation?
The legislation, which had already been proposed in about two dozen states and is now under discussion at the federal level, would require manufacturers of technology and home appliances to provide the tools, instructions and parts necessary for anyone to repair their smartphones, tablets, computers and refrigerators, as well as other products.
It would be a major change. Tech companies currently only provide service tools and parts to a network of officially approved partners, including major brands with service centers like Best Buy and some independent repair shops. These official partners usually follow strict rules, which include the use of original parts purchased directly from the manufacturer, so the costs to the customer may be higher than repairs made by unauthorized repair centers.
By making resources widely available, unofficial repair centers could more easily compete to cut costs. And that would make repairing a more attractive option than buying a new gadget.
Why should I care?
Technology products are some of our most expensive household purchases, and their prices keep going up. Not so long ago, the price of a high-end smartphone was $ 650. Today, new Apple and Samsung phones start at $ 700 and $ 800.
The average household would save $ 330 per year if they repaired products rather than replacing them, which represents $ 40 billion nationally, according to a study by the US Public Interest Research Group.
By extending the life of your gadgets, you would also use more of the energy, metals, plastics, and human labor invested in creating the product.
Why aren’t more people fixing their technology?
There are several barriers to repairing consumer electronics that can make them intimidating.
Basic repairs, like replacing a broken screen or a dead battery, aren’t easy. Modern gadgets are so thin and tightly glued that special tools are usually required to open them. Buying genuine parts isn’t straightforward either – you can’t go to Apple’s or Samsung’s website to order a replacement screen or battery, for example.
Repairing basic components is also becoming increasingly impractical for unauthorized repair shops, especially with Apple phones. Many important parts inside new iPhones, including cameras, batteries, and displays, require proprietary software tools to complete the job, independent repairers said.
Going to Apple and Microsoft retail stores and authorized repair shops is an easy option, but the costs can be so high that you might be persuaded to simply buy a new device. When I took my wife’s iPhone to an Apple Store this year, I was quoted $ 280 to replace a broken touchscreen, which is about 40% of the price of a brand new iPhone. I turned to another route instead.
Why don’t unauthorized fixers become permitted?
Independent repairers have access to tools, parts, and repair instructions when they enter into partnerships with technology companies to become Authorized Service Centers. But Kyle Wiens, managing director of iFixit, which publishes free instruction manuals for users to restore their gadgets, said many independent repairers have been prevented by contract terms from being allowed.
One of the requirements to be an Apple Authorized Repair Center is to collect detailed service records, including customer names, product serial numbers, and mailing addresses. This information should be provided to Apple in the event of an audit to verify that repairs are being performed correctly. Even if a repairman terminates their agreement with Apple, they must agree to continue sharing this information with the company for two years.
There is also the question of price. Shakeel Taiyab, an independent repairman in southern San Francisco, said he charges customers lower prices because he gets genuine parts from channels such as electronic renovators that extract working components from faulty gadgets. (He charged me $ 180 to fix my wife’s iPhone screen, which reduced the Apple Store by $ 100.)
Mr Taiyab said if he became an authorized supplier he would follow the rules, which could lead to higher prices for his customers – something he said he did not want to do.
Apple declined to comment. A spokesperson referred to a press release indicating that there were 1,500 independent authorized repair centers in the United States, Canada and Europe.
Why do tech giants oppose the right to repair?
Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google have contributed to lobbying efforts against the Right to Repair Act. The most common argument is security – the idea that people with access to repair and diagnostic tools could perform illegitimate repairs and steal people’s data.
TechNet, a trade group that represents Apple, Google, Amazon and others, said opening the remedy could put consumers at risk.
“Allowing unchecked third parties to access sensitive diagnostic information, software, tools and parts would jeopardize the security of consumers’ devices and put them at risk of fraud,” said Carl Holshouser, an executive at TechNet, in a statement.
But in its report, the FTC concluded that there was “little evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for the repair restrictions.”
Why is it easier to maintain a car?
When your car breaks down, you can take it to a dealership’s service center or possibly get more affordable service from an independent mechanic. Generally speaking, cars are more customizable with aftermarket parts, and basic maintenance and repair work like changing an oil or replacing a cracked windshield does not require special software. .
In 2012, Massachusetts passed a Right to Repair Auto Act, and automakers agreed to adopt the law’s requirements nationwide. After cars evolved to rely more on computers, legislation helped make special tools and instructions widely available to independent mechanics for repairs.
“When your car breaks down, you know exactly what to do,” Mr. Proctor said. “You find a mechanic, you pay and it’s off again. If you don’t like your mechanic, you find another one. Or you can go to the dealership if you want.
In other words, buying a new car is the last resort. And buying a new phone could be too.
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