The following article appeared in Mother Jones on May 15, 2021
Big Tech Doesn’t Want You Fixing Your Gadgets: This Federal Agency Is Calling BS.
New FTC report is manna for the right-to-repair movement.
For the past several years, as state legislators across the country have held hearings to consider “right-to-repair” bills that would make it easier for consumers to fix their electronic devices, lobbyists representing manufacturers have shown up to repeat the same arguments over and over: Letting people fix their own stuff is too dangerous. It creates cybersecurity risks. It infringes on intellectual property. It won’t help reduce electronic waste.
But while it remains to be seen whether these arguments will win over any of the dozen state legislatures currently considering a right-to-repair bill, one authoritative body isn’t buying them at all: the Federal Trade Commission.
Last week, the FTC released a long-anticipated report to Congress examining the repair restrictions facing consumers, along with a summary of arguments for and against those restrictions. Its conclusion was stark: There’s “scant evidence” to support manufacturers’ justifications for restricting repair, while the solutions repair advocates have proposed are “well supported” by their testimonials. Advocates say that compelling companies like Apple and Tesla to release parts, manuals, and diagnostic information needed for repair will make fixing broken devices faster and more affordable. Ultimately, this will encourage us to maintain our stuff instead of replacing it, resulting in less environmental harm and electronic waste.
With the release of the report, the FTC has signaled that it plans to step up its efforts to enforce laws aimed at preventing manufacturers from restricting repair. But the symbolic nature of the report may be more significant than whatever punitive actions the agency takes next.
The right to repair movement—which promotes the idea that everyone should to be able to repair the devices they own however they want, whenever they want—has “just been given a huge shot in the arm,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of The Repair Association, a right-to-repair advocacy group.
Kerry Maeve Sheehan. the US policy lead at the repair guide site iFixit, agreed. “[F]inally a government agency is saying what we’ve said all along—that manufacturers’ justifications for imposing repair restrictions aren’t backed by evidence,”