Right to Repair - An Entitlement Denied to Smartphone Customers

Photo Credit: Justin Thompson

Consumers' ability to repair their devices at the shop of their choice is being obstructed by big tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Right to Repair legislation is being proposed to lawmakers across the United States to counter these obstructions.

"Right to Repair" (RtR) is a movement that is making waves in the tech industry. Led by The Repair Association, this movement pushes for legislation that forces electronics manufacturers to release their service manuals to the public. At the moment, manufacturers have been complicating repairs by adding special pieces to devices that only they can manipulate, reducing the abilities of independent repair shops. This can be harmful to both the customer and the economy.

Photo Credit: Justin Thompson

Anti-consumerist actions by electronics manufacturers hurt the customer in a multitude of ways. The main way these actions affect customers is that it raises prices. Competition is known to drive down prices and the same applies here. When a company like Apple is the only place to go to get an iPhone repaired, they are the sole influencer for the price of repairs. EHHS Media Teacher Ms. Jessica Spinelli says that she has felt forced to go to her original equipment manufacturer store (such as the Apple store) instead of an independent shop because it was "too expensive." Right to Repair legislation would be able to counter this by giving independent shops the resources they need to competitively price their labor. Anti-consumerist actions by major tech companies also hurt the customer by limiting their ability to perform "do it yourself" projects and repairs on their devices. This means that the owner of a device may not be able to customize their device or do a quick repair because they may be missing a screwdriver for a special screw, for example.

The implementation of Right to Repair legislation can also benefit the economy in several ways. According to The Repair Association, RtR can create jobs and improve access to technology saying, "Fostering repair will give people access to affordable products, make a huge dent in the e-waste problem, and create jobs." According to this quote, RtR will likely help people who are in need of devices get them because it allows people to refurbish these products and provide them for a price that would be cheaper than the price of a new one. This helps stimulate the economy and keeps the phone in circulation. Additionally, this prevents people from throwing their old devices in the trash because it would raise the public's awareness of the value of them, regardless of condition.

Shareholders in this story, including local shops in New Haven, East Haven's politicians of state government, and tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Google have been asked for their thoughts about Right to Repair. John L. from Microsoft responded saying that the company opposes this legislation citing "one proprietary reason is data [and] we all know that devices that our consumers have, has their data, and Microsoft is tasked to make it secured for every consumer of its product." However, expanding access to repair for independent shops will not compromise the customer's data and may actually improve security. The Repair Association says that cybersecurity can be improved because, "The same firmware settings controls that are essential to repair are also essential to improving device security. The US Copyright Office has determined that users should be able to tinker with their firmware to perform security research, improve security and detach devices from default passwords." It seems that either tech companies are too busy or are unwilling to comment on their anti-consumerist practices because they do not have solid enough excuses to defend their opposition against Right to Repair.

Right to Repair laws promote beneficial competition that helps grow the economy and save customers' money. Reach out to your local lawmakers about Right to Repair laws in your state. People in Connecticut can do so from this link.