Imagine being able to open your smartphone yourself, replace the battery with a third-party part and maintain the phone’s warranty. Does that sound like having your cake and eating it too? Perhaps it shouldn’t. According to current United States law — the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, to be precise — consumers already have that right to repair. That hasn’t stopped electronics companies from putting “warranty void if removed” stickers on top of screws, though. When it comes to limitations placed on a consumer’s “right to repair,” warranties are only the tip of the iceberg.
Phones, cars, hospital equipment and even tractors are being designed so that authorized specialists are exclusively given the ability to fix common issues. Hospitals have struggled to repair ventilators, a primary tool in supporting COVID-19 patients; farmers have had to forego crops because of broken-down tractors; and, of course, consumers throw away year-old phones in exchange for upgrades. The Associated Press reports such issues as withholding repair tools and creating software-based locks. Electronics companies claim they create these barriers to avoid security issues — some security specialists disagree, and the Biden Administration’s recent stand for a competitive economy includes a clear directive in favor of the consumer’s right to repair.
Last month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at increasing competition in the U.S. economy. This included a directive for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue rules that prevent manufacturers from inhibiting repairs conducted by independent shops and device owners, restrictions which can violate antitrust laws. Already, the FTC has unanimously voted to adopt a policy statement that enhances its enforcement of such laws.
“The heart of American capitalism is a simple idea: open and fair competition — that means that if your companies want to win your business, they have to go out and they have to up their game; better prices and services; new ideas and products,” the president recently said at the White House. “….Now, look, I’m a proud capitalist. I spent most of my career representing the corporate state of Delaware. I know America can’t succeed unless American business succeeds. But let me be very clear: Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism; it’s exploitation.”
Not only does the right to repair increase economic competition and benefit hospitals, farms and car owners, but it also increases technological innovation. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak made a public statement last month in support of the right to repair on Cameo, a platform where people pay celebrities for a personal message. Wozniak claimed Apple wouldn’t have existed if he couldn’t take machines apart, learn about them and appropriate them for his own use. The right to repair, according to Wozniak, supports innovation.
“We wouldn't have had an Apple had I not grown up in a very open technology world,” he said. Wozniak left Apple in the mid-1980s.
And what of messaging currently touted by companies like Apple, claiming that opening repairs to all creates security threats? The nonprofit advocacy group securepairs.org — composed of respected information technology and information security professionals — pushes back on that suggestion.
In its mission statement, the organization states: “As security and information technology professionals, we recognize that the freedom to repair, fix and tinker is core to the advancement of the technology industry. We also recognize that it is indispensable if we are to not only realize new products and services, but also keep them secure from hackers, cyber criminals and other sophisticated adversaries.
“As citizens across the country seek to enshrine the right to repair their personal, home and workplace electronics in law, securepairs.org is about giving the information technology and information security communities voices and seats at the table. As others look to cast repair and tinkering in a negative light, we seek to inform the public that repair is critical to good and lasting security,” the nonprofit writes.
No matter which side of the security issue you fall on, you can’t deny that the right to repair movement is gaining momentum. This summer, New York became the first state to adopt legislation that increases access to electronics and farm equipment repair. The same month, Representative Joe Morelle of New York introduced the Fair Repair Act to Congress. If nothing else, these are wins for the U.S. economy.
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