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The Global Fight for Your Right to Repair

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    28 июня 2022 г., 10:05:57 MSK

    From smartphones to cars to crucial medical equipment, technological advances have brought with them anti-competitive practices that leave consumers dependent on manufacturers long after they’ve paid. In response, a movement for the right to repair has been on the rise. That said, car manufacturers may void the warranty on a part if it is damaged due to the use of inferior parts or faulty workmanship, so it is advisable for motorists to ensure that when using independent service providers, they’re reputable operators. Still, this is a significant step for the “right to repair” movement, which has been steadily gaining ground around the world over the past decade, as more and more companies have been accused of anti-competitive behaviour.

    What is the right to repair?

    When you buy phone replacement parts something, you should have the right to repair it, whether that means taking it to the repair shop of your choice or fixing it yourself. Manufacturers of all kinds of things smartphones, tractors, wheelchairs, and beyond unfairly limit their customers’ repair options, making repair more expensive and difficult, writes Elizabeth Chamberlain for the website, iFixit, a leading pioneer in the right-to-repair movement. She goes on to describe the right-to-repair movement as a broad international effort working to secure our repair options and prevent limitations. “Right-to-repair laws have three main goals: preserving the right to open your stuff, increasing the availability of the parts and tools you need, and keeping independent repair shops in business,” she adds.

    Is it really yours if you can’t open it without the manufacturer’s permission?

    Apple in particular has been repeatedly called out by proponents of the movement for making its computers and smartphones nearly impossible to repair without using the company’s own services or tools, as well as for installing restrictive software, or binding consumers to contracts that severely restrict their right to repair their own products. Back in 2009, the company introduced the pentalobe screw to their MacBook pro, as a fastener for the battery. The screw head had five rounded points, and at that time there was no screwdriver available that could fit it perfectly. This meant that the only way consumers would ever be able to repair anything in the machine that required unscrewing the battery, would be to go through Apple itself. By 2011, a smaller version of the screw appeared on the iPhone 4’s exterior, effectively blocking users and independent repairers from opening the phones.

    Decisions like custom phone case these are often defended by manufacturers as being for security reasons, especially as our phones increasingly hold sensitive information. In 2016, thousands of iPhone 6 users found themselves with useless phones after an Apple iOS update detected that they had their phones repaired at an unauthorised shop. The software update immediately bricked the phones, making them unusable. All users got was an “Error 53” on-screen message. A public outcry ensued, Apple apologised, provided an upgrade to fix the problem, and released a statement that said in part: “We apologise for any inconvenience, this was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers.” However, initially, the company told some customers they would have to pay for a replacement iPhone. In fact, this led the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to commence a legal battle with Apple in 2017, which it won in 2018, and Apple had to pay a AU$9-million fine for its actions.

    Still more recently, some were reminded of the 2016 incident in November 2021, when it turned out that the Apple’s latest phone, the iPhone 13, completely disabled Face ID if users replaced the screen with an independent repairer. Tech website, The Verge, reported at the time that “repair experts found that swapping out iPhone 13 screens would break Face ID unless you also moved over a tiny control chip from the original screen. It’s a complex process that makes one of the most common types of repairs prohibitively difficult for independent repair shops. (Apple-authorised repair shops, on the other hand, have access to a software tool that can make a phone accept a new screen.)” Notably, the screen was not part of the camera set-up to enable Face ID. Once again, after a public outcry, Apple announced that it would issue a software update to prevent the problem.

    The wholesale phone repair parts company is also connected to various lobbying efforts to fight legislation that would allow customers to repair their devices independently.

    As reported in a May 2021 article published by Bloomberg, Microsoft and Apple Wage War on Gadget Right-to-Repair Laws, 27 US states were considering right-to-repair bills pushed by a cadre of small business owners, hobbyists and activists across the country in 2022. However, by May 2021, more than half had already been voted down or dismissed. “Microsoft’s top lawyer advocated against a repair bill in its home state. Lobbyists for Google and Amazon.com Inc. swooped into Colorado this year to help quash a proposal. Trade groups representing Apple Inc. successfully buried a version in Nevada. Telecoms, home appliance firms and medical companies also opposed the measures, but few have the lobbying muscle and cash of these technology giants,” reports Bloomberg.

    The article points to Apple as being particularly effective compared with the other companies: “Lobbyists representing the iPhone company discreetly told colleagues that it would be willing to endorse repair programmes at local colleges in exchange for killing the bill… Unlike Microsoft, Apple often lets hired guns or trade groups do its advocacy. In New York, an Apple-backed association, the Security Innovation Center, sent around talking points opposing a right-to-repair bill in 2018. Such legislation ‘would have gifted hackers with digital keys to thousands of internet-connected products’,” read the document viewed by Bloomberg News.” Apple succeeded and the New York bill in question never even made it to a vote. At another meeting, Apple’s lobbyists reportedly brought an iPhone to the meeting with legislators and legislative aides, and proceeded to show them the internal components and claimed that “consumers who are trying to fix their own iPhone could hurt themselves by puncturing the lithium-ion battery”.