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FTC Comes Out in Favor of Right to Repair

iFixit covers the just-released US Federal Trade Commission report calling out manufacturers for restricting consumer repair capabilities and debunking common arguments against the right to repair. The FTC found that companies are illegally voiding warranties in violation of the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, and it is considering more stringent enforcement of the law and additional rules to make it easier for owners to repair their own devices or take them to independent repair shops.

One common argument from manufacturers is that they make repairs more difficult to prevent consumers from hurting themselves. The FTC disagreed with that assessment, finding that making repairs harder actually makes independent repair less safe. The FTC also didn’t buy arguments that independent repair threatens customer security or opens manufacturers up to liability, having found no evidence of either. Finally, the FTC noted that repair restrictions that limit the business of independent repair shops cause harm to local economies and disproportionately hurt the poor and minorities.

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Comments About FTC Comes Out in Favor of Right to Repair

Notable Replies

  1. The only problem I have with Right to Repair measures, is that some have their own agendas to want it passed. The irony is that some want to monopolize repairs in that you buy “their” tools and use “their” site for videos and documentations with possible subscription plans.
    I think a company, let’s say Apple in this case, should sell its own OEM tools and let AppleID accounts have access to pdfs and repair docs. Some of Apple’s ATLAS and GSX training videos/pdf’s are spot on, and rightly so. (I have to say, I am biased, having been an AAMT for several years).
    So, I guess we see if we will get access to parts/tools. Do you think Apple will still have Vintage and Obsolete categories, or will they no longer only allow parts to California? Interesting…

  2. You’re not wrong that there are self-interested players involved, but it’s companies like iFixit and repairmen like Louis Rossman, who I generally consider the good guys. Not to mention all the farmers who can no longer repair their own equipment.

    I also agree there are a lot of devils in the details on right to repair. For instance, would Apple have to make major changes to their designs so you could easily open them?

  3. Everyone has an agenda. :-) The question is if the end result is good or bad for society and the environment.

  4. I think all parties would be happy if the industry (including Apple) would consent to:

    • Make schematics and documentation (e.g. case opening/closing procedures) available for a reasonable price (e.g. $1000/yr subscription) so repair shops can get official information instead of having to scrounge it from questionable sources. Doesn’t need to be free, but low enough that an independent repair shop can reasonably afford it.
    • Offer to sell replacement parts (especially unique chips that can’t be purchased elsewhere) to independent repair shops. Again, no need for them to be free and no need to let the shops perform warranty replacement (although that would be nice). Just make the parts available for a reasonable price.
    • Allow repair shops access to the tools needed to cryptographically pair parts with devices. Again, no need to make these available to the public, just set reasonable terms that allow legitimate repair shops access.

    If the industry would do these three things, I think most of us would be willing to table the rest for some later discussion.

  5. Though it’s a very different industry, since the development of connected cars there’s a lot going on with data access to automotive manufacturers’ repair services and independent shops. It was only through right to repair legislation in the US that independent shops became available almost a century ago. Massachusetts recently passed a right to repair law covering connected cars, and data security is a very big issue here. The automotive data that’s to be collected is supposed to be just mechanical, not anything personal. There are also questions about sharing historical data, and overall data security.

    “The Commonwealth will still need to answer many questions about the kinds of data that must be provided and the types of consent that must be obtained. A platform provider will need to be sourced, and there will be many questions about how a provider should be selected, who should pay to create the platform, and how its operating costs should be covered. There will also be questions about who qualifies as a “repair shop” and represents a legitimate user of the telematics data stored on the independent platform.”

    Something else to think about…what if local repair shops start sharing info they gathered to better target ads in Facebook, Google, etc.?

  6. While I don’t want companies doing stupid, petty, and unnecessary things to prevent the ability to repair your own stuff, thing pentalobe screws, I am concerned that advancements might be held back. I can’t repair my car like I could 40 years ago, but it is much, much, much more reliable.

    And the discussion on farmers and tractors makes people I know in ag laugh hard. They describe how poorly much farm equipment they service is maintained by farmers, including basic cleaning. And how farmer will bring a harvester’s dissembled transmission to the dealer, expecting the dealer to fix it under warrantee.

  7. Many good points here but I am definitely on the general side of “right of repair” because, most of the time, the manufacturer arguments seem insincere or unjustified, and, many otherwise repairable valuable products have to be trashed. I am a big DIY’er and have used iFixit plenty and have long supported their efforts.

    The law should be nuanced so it doesn’t constrain what products can be made but it should force repairability where not unduly restrictive - admittedly, not an easy law to write.

    Finally, I’ll believe “right to repair” has happened only when I see it.

  8. I certainly hope no local repair shop would be able to garner enough data for it to be valuable in that regard. :slight_smile:

    My experience here is old, but I grew up on a family farm with elderly equipment (like from the 1930s through the 1950s) that we maintained ourselves. Parts were readily available, and it was doable. I can’t speak for modern mega farmers with super expensive machines, but we certainly would never have taken something to a dealer (even if there had been a dealer for what we used) for the simple reason that it would take too long. It was bad enough when the baler would break on a Saturday and we’d have to rush to the parts store before it closed so we could fix it and finish making hay on Sunday.

    I was super happy when I was able to buy a 1959 Ford Powermaster 841 tractor from a friend. I use it for snow plowing, brush hogging, and general landscape maintenance. His name is Max (after the dog in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas). And yes, I do all the maintenance myself, with help from my father. There’s a ton of information for these old tractors online, along with numerous vendors selling parts.

  9. I’m conflicted. My sense is that Apple does things that make repair difficult, but also make their devices sturdier, more reliable, and smaller. I personally like the latter more than I find the former important, but I also recognize that there are companies that abuse the privilege and people who don’t agree with my views.

  10. It’s not an either-or decision.

    Apple can sell their current designs without change and simply make schematics, manuals, parts and tools (all of which, they already have for their internal use right now) available to repair shops for a reasonable price and that would satisfy most of the complaints from independent repair shops.

    Other issues, like designing products for the purpose of making repair easy, would be a nice bonus, but it’s not a top priority and I don’t think anybody wants to put force of law behind such a desire.

  11. I don’t agree that “satisfy most of the complaints from private repair shops “ would actually do much to calm the issue down. Ifixit isn’t the one that’s getting congresspeople involved

    “Force of law”

    I think that’s exactly what a lot of people do in fact want to do.

  12. If people actually are demanding government-mandated product designs, I haven’t heard it from anyone. And nobody anywhere would be happy with the result.

    And this is in addition to the fact that no such law could ever possibly be Constitutional.

  13. In the US, what few digital privacy regulations there are do not apply to small local companies. But regulation is a big concern for larger organizations, which could trickle down to the small guys:

    And if a small shop can access data about where it’s customers shop, restaurants they frequent, etc., at least in the US, there’s nothing stopping them. Hyper local ads on social media are very inexpensive and easy to buy.

  14. For about as long as I can remember, and I ain’t a spring chicken, I’ve often heard complaints about small local electronics shops, as well as automotive aftermarket, that was not manufacturer sanctioned or guaranteed. Quality control over small local repair shops would probably a big expense that would significantly impact Apple’s bottom line.

  15. I’ve seen lots of people arguing for, eg, mandated replaceable battery designs, so I disagree that people aren’t asking for such things.

    And this is in addition to the fact that no such law could ever possibly be Constitutional

    Uh, the government successfully mandates a lot of design requirements for all sorts of products (airbags, anti-lock brakes, safety features on everything under the sun) so I’m unsure how it would be unconstitutional?

  16. But nobody is expecting Apple to guarantee the work of an independent shop.

    Just like nobody expects Chevrolet to guarantee work done by Gus’s Garage.

    Sure, there are and always will be bad shops. But that doesn’t translate to some moral obligation to destroy the entire independent repair industry - which seems to be their argument.

    They say “we can’t let you do work because not everybody is perfect”. Well, I hate to burst their bubble, but they’re not perfect either. There are plenty of stories of Apple botching repair jobs as well. Does this mean we should outlaw their repair facilities as well?

  17. Government can make the argument about safety standards because they (allegedly) save lives.

    Good luck making the same argument for phone battery replacement when we’re only talking about inconvenience, not people’s lives.

  18. Could you specify exactly what constitutional issue you’re invoking? Inconvenience is not a protected right.

  19. Apple’s iOS only has a 27% global market share:

    Samsung, just like Apple, does not authorize or enable any unqualified Joe Schmoe or Jane Schmane shop or personal repairs:

    Personally, I’d rather have a slimmer, lighter mobile device, and If special screws and gluing accomplishes this, I’m AOK with it. If repairing a mobile device is that important, then don’t buy an Apple or Samsung.

    And about destroying the repair industry, Apple has a global independent and third party repair program that is continuing to expand globally:

    I had some very unsatisfactory experiences with Radio Shack in the pre Apple Store era, and I don’t know anyone who was sad to see them go. And there are a lot of Apple Authorized Service Providers. Here in the NYC metro area there are Apple Authorized third party repair providers of all sizes, and a lot more of them than there are Apple Stores.

  20. Ray

    I had an iMac Pro fixed at a local Apple Authorized repair center and they chipped the glass screen. I was disappointed but did not make a big deal of it (it was cosmetic and did not affect the functioning). When I brought the same iMac to Apple for other fixes, they replaced the screen without cost as they were concerned it did not meet their standards for repair.

    Just because it is AA does not mean it is perfect, but that glued screen needs special equipment to open.

  21. There is no tradeoff. You can make a svelte design without using a pentalobe screw. The pentalobe screw is just there to keep everybody out and that is simply not OK. Period. Either Apple budges here or they will be forced to by law. It’s clear politically where this is going, especially in the EU. It’s really just a question of when.

  22. Of course there’s a tradeoff, Simon. You can cherrypick an example to make it seem otherwise, but this is a larger issue than just one screw.

  23. My first pastorate was in a farming area just outside of Rochester, NY. Many of my parishioners were farmers and they all did much of their own repair work - cheaper, faster, and as Adam says, necessary to keep much needed equipment in action. Over the years I saw a number of parishioners in various occupations who were capable of repairing their own equipment without the manufacturer trying to lock them out. Seems to me, if I buy it and do not mess something up and try to make the manufacturer responsible for my mess, it is none of their business if I do it myself - and I would welcome their making the parts and info how available to me. And YES to the work iFix It and OWC have done to help us repair our own equipment! Understanding the detail of such a right, sure hope it comes through soon.

  24. What would make it “unconstitutional”? We live in a land where if it is not forbidden it is permitted unlike Europe where if it is not permitted it is forbidden.

  25. (Assuming you’re talking about the United States when you say “we”. TidBITS also has many many readers from Canada, Asia and many other non-European countries.)

    No. We live in a land where there is a written document explicitly limiting what the Federal government can do. Everything else is reserved to the states and the people.

    A fact that most of this country either doesn’t know or deliberately chooses to ignore.

    Government micro-managing corporations in order to force them to design and produce things the way unaccountable government committees demand is barely justifiable when it is (supposedly) intended to save lives. It’s far less justifiable when it is being done simply because some vocal advocates say they really really want it.

  26. Uh, again, can you point to a specific Constitutional understanding (preferably with a Supreme Court case) that backs up your point? The government regulates all sorts of things about how things are produced that have nothing to do with safety – gas mileage regulations for cars come immediately to mind. The Fair Packaging and Labeling act requires manufacturers to put the names of the products on their packages, how much is in there, and various other things that have nothing to do with safety.

  27. This discussion is going nowhere and I’m stopping now.

    You seem to be under the impression that the government has completely unlimited rights to do anything it wants. This is simply not true. The Constitution enumerates a very specific set of powers for the Federal government and it is supposed to stop there.

    The fact that we have been living under decades of unconstitutional abuse of power from all branches of the government does not change this fact.

  28. So, no, you can’t actually name a Constitutional understanding that supports your point and so you’re taking your ball and going home rather than admit that.

    (this is not a hard thing, I want to stop and say. If I said that, Constitutionally, money=speech, and someone asked for the understanding that supported that argument, I’d point to the Citizens United Supreme Court case.)

    Yes, and I’m asking you to point to the specific Constitutional understanding that points to the idea that the federal government can’t regulate manufacturers. What is a Supreme Court case that makes the distinction between “safety” as an issue and “inconvenience,” which you argued was crucial?

    Ah. This line suggests that the federal government does currently have the power to regulate devices but that you simply don’t like it, which isn’t at all the same thing.

  29. I’m not sure there’s a constitutional question here. It strikes me that the first-sale doctrine is more appropriate. The first-sale doctrine, which has been upheld more than once by the Supreme Court, basically says that once you have bought a copyrighted work or something that contains a copyrighted work (such as a book or a DVD), the original copyright owner no longer has any rights over the physical item. It strikes me that that could logically be extended to cover computers (and tractors that contain copyrighted software controls) without invoking any constitutional questions.

  30. I, for one, was sorry to see Radio Shack go. I never sought repairs or repair advice from them, but until a few years before they died, they were the one place I could go for an uncommon AV adapter or electronic component and reasonably expect to find it. Now, I have to go online to find these things, and hope that I’m not getting scammed by a third-party seller on a marketplace.

    B&H has become my go-to for many of these things now. They’re reliable and trustworthy, but unless I want to pay for next-day shipping, it takes about a week to get stuff from them. And they don’t have much in terms of under-the-hood components—they target end users, not tinkerers. But if a particular adapter exists, they almost certainly have it.

    I miss being able to get components on the spot as needed.

  31. Alright, I’m closing this topic down, it’s gone too far afield.

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