By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
There’s a well-known quote, often misattributed to Gandhi, that each of us knows: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
The quote’s been debunked – but no less than Donald Trump uses it anyway.
But where on that spectrum are we, when lobbyists contrive a statement that’s so manifestly silly, we laugh at them?
I wonder whether the Mahatma ever coped with that situation – and what his response was if he did.
The silliness is of course exacerbated when they couch the concern in terms that suggest they really, really, really have our safety at heart when they’re trying to skewer pro-consumer initiatives.
Right to Repair Movement On the March
Regular readers are aware of my interest in a right to repair (see this April piece, Right to Repair Initiatives Gain Support in US , which includes links to earlier coverage.)
My interest arose over concerns that the common sustainability remain, reduce, reuse, recycle, mantra doesn’t go far enough (as I wrote in Four Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and…Repair). Repair is especially important, despite vociferous opposition to this movement by those producing products that include e-waste or plastics – and these are difficult to recycle. If you can repair it, you don’t have to replace it and try to recycle.
There’s also basic economic fairness issue here. Companies such as John Deere and Apple make it difficult if not impossible for purchasers to repair products that they’ve bought and paid for. Why should these companies regard purchasers as a long-term income stream, condemned to return to the company every time something goes wrong with a product?
That’s changing. Senator Elizabeth Warren has endorsed a right to repair, limited to farm equipment – obviously with an eye to Iowa’s famers. And twenty states have been considering right to repair legislation, according to US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG).
California became the latest in March when State Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman introduced legislation. From her press release:
For nearly 30 years California has required that manufacturers provide access to replacement parts and service materials for electronics and appliances to authorized repairers in the state. In that time, manufacturers have captured the market, controlling where and when we repair our property, and inflating the electronic waste stream,” Eggman said. “The Right to Repair will provide consumers with the freedom to have their electronic products and appliances fixed by a repair shop or service provider of their choice, creating a competitive market that will be cheaper for consumers and reduce the number of devices thrown in the trash.”
People who can’t afford the high price of manufacturer-based repair services are increasingly forced to prematurely replace durable goods, such as phones, TVs, and appliances. Repairing and reusing electronics is not only a more efficient use of the scarce materials that go into manufacturing the products, but it can also stimulate local economies instead of overseas factories.
“People shouldn’t be forced to ‘upgrade’ to the newest model every time a replaceable part on their smartphone or home appliance breaks,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “These companies are profiting at the expense of our environment and our pocketbooks as we become a throw-away society that discards over 6 million tons of electronics every year.”
So against that background, what does the Apple have to say to California?
Well, as Motherboard reported yesterday:
In recent weeks, an Apple representative and a lobbyist for CompTIA, a trade organization that represents big tech companies, have been privately meeting with legislators in California to encourage them to kill legislation that would make it easier for consumers to repair their electronics, Motherboard has learned.
According to two sources in the California State Assembly, the lobbyists have met with members of the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee, which is set to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday afternoon. The lobbyists brought an iPhone to the meetings and showed lawmakers and their legislative aides the internal components of the phone. The lobbyists said that if improperly disassembled, consumers who are trying to fix their own iPhone could hurt themselves by puncturing the lithium-ion battery, the sources, who Motherboard is not naming because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said.
Are they serious? Apparently.
Another popular boogeyman is the dreaded hackers in the basement. And why not? This putative monster has successfully deranged national political discourse. Given that success, why shouldn’t the tech industry try the same ploy?
Back to Motherboard:
The in-person meetings in California came a few weeks after CompTIA and 18 other trade organizations associated with big tech companies—including CTIA and the Entertainment Software Association—sent letters in opposition of the legislation to members of the Assembly’s Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. One copy of the letter, addressed to committee chairperson Ed Chau and obtained by Motherboard, urges the chairperson “against moving forward with this legislation.” CTIA represents wireless carriers including Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, while the Entertainment Software Association represents Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and other video game manufacturers.
“With access to proprietary guides and tools, hackers can more easily circumvent security protections, harming not only the product owner but also everyone who shares their network,” the letter, obtained by Motherboard, stated. “When an electronic product breaks, consumers have a variety of repair options, including using an OEM’s [original equipment manufacturer] authorized repair network.”
Unbelievably, these arguments have prevailed – for the moment. The California bill was scheduled for a hearing Tuesday. Then it was pulled from consideration due to some of this trash talking on behalf of the tech industries. By the way, this is a common lobbying tactic – where draconian, and frankly bogus but seemingly complex and serious concerns are raised just before the buzzer’s due to sound. And then every politician who doesn’t want to act on something has ample political cover not to do so. Often delay then dooms the initiative.
The bottom line in California: the right to repair bill cannot move forward until the 2020 calendar year.
So I may mock these concerns – and the lobbyists who raised them, but for the moment, they’ve won. At least in California.
I reached out for a comment and context to Nathan Proctor, of US PIRG, Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, and he returned with an email in which disappointment is evident, but doesn’t sound defeated. I guess you need to roll with the punches if you work in the area of public interest law. He emphasizes that the movement has gained significant recent attention on the national political stage:
“Going up against some of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world isn’t easy — but we’re in it for the long haul. Even as we have our setbacks, Right to Repair is growing in prominence. Senator Elizabeth Warren endorsed Right to Repair for farm equipment, following by an editorial from the New York Times calling for Right to Repair for all our devices. Minnesota is gearing up for a full floor vote, and we still have other states in play.”
This California setback is the loss of a battle, not the loss of the war.
Such a pity there is no modern Monty Python. These companies have proven themselves masters of the comedy of the absurd!
“Repair it yourself sir? Are you mad? You might kill yourself and end human civilization!”. Much better if we make you a new Ipad.
That Ipad is not “dead”. Its just resting. Oh sorry, I mean it is dead. Couldnt possibly be raised from the dead.
It’s a Norwegian Blue iPad. ;)
Redefining the concept of a “burner phone”
This I have to see. I have to see the USA courts buy this argument from Apple.
People can buy firearms, but can’t have the right to repair a phone because they might hurt themselves.
The arrogance and entitlement bound up in sutch a lazy argument is only matched by the corruption of any official who gives it merit.
Someone might stick their finger in the belt assembly of a running engine, better put a lock on all car hoods that only a certified dealer mechanic can open.
Didnt happen to cars because of the dealerships.
US Auto industry (minus Tesla) has an in-built checks and balances system between the OEMs and dealers.
Electronics industry does not. Apple both makes and sells its product. Dell both makes and sells its product. etc.
And when you get to Aerospace, the OEMs dont even want to repair. Too much liability. So they send the planes to 3rd parties.
Which is ironic: the most liable product has 3rd party repair centers, often overseas, with little to no oversight, and a completely risk-free product like a smart phone is looking to have OEM repair only.
Both ridiculous. In my eyes, once a consumer buys a product, it is theirs by right, and therefore, they are allowed to do anything with it. And in the same vein, it would be only a benefit to the economy as a whole to allow companies to spin services off of others products, or products off of other products. Heck, Apple essentially ‘spins off’ other products, the difference apparently is how complex the product vs raw material is.
Right and thank god for the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act which federally guarantees that car warranties must be honored by dealers even though routine maintenance was done by an independent garage, among other things.
“Susan Talamantes Eggman”, thank you for that that third name, otherwise I might have confused her with a California legislator named Susan Cohen Eggman”, or “Susan Jones Eggman” or “Susan Wehr Eggman…”
Please, can we please, please avoid the mouth virus, tantamount to “have a nice day,” “Thank you for your service” or “networking,” of broadcasting two last names for women?
It reminds me of the new newsworthyness of naming people’s dogs, cats and smaller animals in media.
Super important issue. I give Warren props for her awareness of it, and willingness to address.
I do too. But I couldn’t figure out how to work in this fact: John Hickenlooper does too. As goes Hickenlooper, so goes the country? I thought if I included this, the post would then be too long, and I might lose some readers with my quirky sense of humour.
Well, I’m a Windows user myself, but I identify as an Apple user. The problem is not that Apple comes up with such stupid arguments but that politicians will us that as an excuse to follow Apple’s recommendations. Somebody should remind them how easily that this could become apolitical issue.
I’m sure it was the safety concerns and other erudite arguments put forth to the legislators that swayed their opinions.
What shopping bag on the table?
One lever Apple and other computer companies (now including Deere) use is politicians ignorance about computer software and hardware. If you’re talking about, say for example, a basic car from several years ago most politicians didn’t feel too intimidated by the “oooo, it’s a car, much too dangerous for home mechanics to work on” pitch by the car manufacturers. Politicians knew better, some of them probably tinkered on their own cars when young. Cars weren’t a black box.
In the case of computers and digital devices, far too many politicians have no personal reference points and believe the Apple and Deere’s flimflam. Yes, lithium batteries can cause fire if not handled in a reasonable manner. (don’t shoot them, drive a nail into them, put them in your microwave oven. how many fix it shops or home users are likely to do that?)
Apple and 3rd party companies have made replacement lithium batteries for iPods, iPhones, and laptops for years. Apple sold them to individuals and fix it shops. I don’t remember any lawsuits about repairers hurting themselves using these products. (Although some of the original mac laptops had a problem with factory installed lithium batteries catching on fire due to chemical adulteration of the lithium at the manufacturing plant. That’s been fixed.)
Apple’s claim the home fix it person might hurt themselves if allowed to fix their own device? hahahahaha
I worked the electronics industry in Northern California for many years.
I have been involved with getting printed circuit boards fabricated in the USA and overseas and getting Printed Circuit Assemblies (PCA’s) assembled and tested (in the USA and overseas).
If the “right to repair” legislation applies to board level repair, then that complicates the repair situation a great deal as modern, very dense, PCA’s are difficult to test and repair at the component level.
Simply opening a product to diagnose a problem can damage additional, previously good, components via a static discharge (Electro-Static Discharge) if precautions are not taken.
And ESD damages may not cause an immediate failure, so a repair might work for a while until a unrelated ESD caused failure manifests..
Replacing a soldered on failed component on a PCA can damage other components or the printed circuit board itself if the correct desoldering/soldering equipment is not used and used properly.
That is why there are $25,000 surface mount rework machines available.
To appreciate the problem, do what I do sometimes.
Take apart a failed or obsolete consumer electronics product and imagine trying to troubleshoot and replace a small component inside.
Does the “right to repair” legislation allow the original manufacturer to refuse to fix a product that an unauthorized repair facility has already touched and failed to repair?
In my view, that seems fair, given all the potential damage a careless attempted repair can do.
Most home user and fix it shop circuit board level repairs that I’m aware of consist of buying a new board, like a motherboard that comes fully assembled with all the small chips, resistors, and jumpers. That’s been my experience.
My first thought is to agree with what appears to be your very reasonable suggestion that manufacturers should have no warranty obligations (or duty to attempt repair) as to products for which unauthorized repair has been attempted. But then I wonder whether a provision like that wouldn’t tempt manufacturers of complex electronic products to manufacture them in such a way that virtually any DIY repair effort would cause damage relieving the manufacturer of any further responsibility and therefore scaring purchasers out of attempting any DIY repair. Generally I support right to repair, but I can foresee manufacturers responding to prevent it as a practical matter.
I would beg to differ on the PCB rework. There are plenty of bits you can replace with tools in the $1000-total range, that have 95% probability of success for a repairman or woman with a few months of practice. Given the device is dead otherwise, that’s a risk well worth taking.
Remember, we’re not talking about the customer literally doing it themselves, that’s the whole point. They should be able to go to a kiosk in the mall and have someone with a year or two of practice replace their broken screen etc, rather than being gouged by the manufacturer, ***whose monopoly on repairs is a solely legal construct***.
Right to refuse to repair hardware damage caused by unauthorized repairs? yes
Right to digitally cripple a device that’s been opened by an unauthorized shop, to punish anyone trying to escape the monopoly? heck no, that is obnoxiously anti-competitive behavior.
Best thing, don’t buy unfixable/overpriced products from vendors who go out of their way to lock you into buying more unfixable/overpriced products in the future.
They should be able to go to a kiosk in the mall…
That’s a very important point out here in the great plains and Midwest, where an authorized Apple repair shop could be a 6 or 7 hour drive away, one way, so an overnight trip (no exaggeration). Whereas, a repair shop in the local mall might be only a 15 or 30 minute drive away.
You are straw manning a bit since the overwhelming number of repairs on iPhones undoubtedly result from either a cracked screen or a bad battery. Both of these parts should be modular and I’ve owned Android phones where you simply take off the back with your fingernail and pop out the lithium battery for a replacement. There’s probably no reason Apple couldn’t do this as well except that this would kill their business model which is built around planned obsolescence. It’s a great racket. You wouldn’t buy an expensive Rolex watch and expect to replace it every two years but the iPhone is expected to be disposable just like the sub $100 Chinese Android phone.
No, of course surface mount components can’t be replaced by consumers but how likely are those to go bad? Not very, I’m guessing. Eventually even well heeled consumers may give up on Apple’s racket and buy something else. But such an eventuality could render the repair movement moot as well. If devices become so inexpensive that it’s cheaper to buy new than even a home brew repair then those phones too will be joining old iPhones on the trash pile.
I’ll suggest that the boundary of allowable repairs be detailed in the legislation.
My secondary point is that damage can be done to a product when it is opened for a simple repair.
I remember damaging some exposed prototype hardware with a static discharge some years ago.
Here is some background from a semiconductor manufacturer, Texas Instruments.
Yeah the same thing can happen with your car. And “difficult” is a qualitative assessment that is, well difficult to pin down.
In any case, if somebody says they can fix something and messes it up, then they are liable to make it right. In the car example if that happens to be the alternator, and whilst arguing with the back-alley shop over that your fuel injection system goes, then if under factory warranty the manufacturer still has to fix the transmission regardless of that tinkering under the same hood.
Same logic applies to electronic parts. And you can even break it down into functionality – if some third party or even you yourself mess up and give up on a buzzer replacement, just because that’s dicked up on your phone does not mean you are notl entitled to a new processor board if the original manufacturer didn’t solder a chip on properly.
Don’t make these things more magical than they are.
You might want to pick up a copy of Nuts&Volts magazine or a copy of the Amateur Radio Relay League‘s monthly QST magazine. They are just two examples of magazines that have hundreds of articles on repairing and replacing SMCs (Surface Mount Components) as well as dealing with static discharge.
Thousands of people successfully build and/or repair all kinds of modern consumer electronics items including battery operated complicated transceivers and there are articles galore written by people explaining clearly how to safely repair electronic items.
As a matter of fact that was an article in QST Magazine just last month on the basics of how to build (or replace) Surface Mount Components.
Or, if you don’t like reading basic electronics magazines available on local news stands, check out all the SMC-based electron kits available for anything from raspberry pi automated sprinkler systems to hobby drone kits powered by NiMH batteries to sophisticated amateur radio transceivers covering audio to daylight frequencies with hundreds of watts of power output… many of these kits making iPhones look like tinker toys.
Then watch some Louis Rossman videos to see how much fun diagnosing and repairing Mac boards can be.
Donning a little tin foil.
Phones today come loaded with software and features that can’t be removed or disabled. Unfortunately, my job demands require that I have a smartphone.
Recently I purchased a new Android phone – I can’t remove the Facebook app. I purposely bought an unlocked phone so I could have greater control over it. Defaults are set up and somewhat difficult to work around.
In addition to Facebook – even though I don’t use it – I also can’t disable various features – like “body sensors” and “audio” without getting constant notifications to restore the setting. I can’t take a photo without the audio feature being enabled which means by default each photo is set up to record sound. Which means my phone is always listening to and acquiring data. In short, my phone really is much more of a surveillance tool than I think it should be or that I am willing to accept.
Who is listening and why?
This recent experience of trying to remove and disable apps makes me think that ‘Right to Repair’ may be more of a threat to surveillance than we are ready to believe.
I carry two “phones.” My old Blackberry I use for actual phone calls and texts, and a newer Android phone that I use only with the few apps that I am required to have, and surfing the web using duckduckgo, as I am doing now. The “phone” app is unusable as I will not permit it to have access to my contacts list (which is empty) and the camera is not used because it requires that the microphone be turned on?. Even so, I keep it in a wallet which covers the cameras. I spent hours turning everything unneccessary off and reviewing settings on this thing when I got it and continue to. So little privacy, so much extra effort.
Another option is NetGuard, an open source, well maintained, Android Firewall that can block all communications including facebook libraries, etc. An excellent product available on GitHub. I use it and it works very well.
It’s primarily about the USian obsession with suing people, especially companies with lots of money. With the hundreds of millions of Apple devices in use, it’s a statistical certainty that some idiot trying to “repair” a bricked iPhone, for example, will hurt themselves, start a fire, or just destroy the whole thing. At that point, Apple will be sued for a billion dollars for making “unsafe” products, or for the mental turmoil occasioned by having failed to reboot an iPhone using a hammer and chisel. Anyone who breaks their iDevice or just can’t get it to work will simply claim they were repairing it, and demand a replacement. In theory, Apple could make people who want to repair things themselves sign a document waiving their right to compensation if they broke it, but smart lawyers would find a way around that. The next thing would be law-suits demanding that Apple make all of its equipment “more repairable”, and re-design it if necessary to make this possible, meanwhile including full repair manuals in 36 languages with each product. Apple have presumably judged that there are no concessions they can make which won’t lead to more and more demands, and that a small amount of negative publicity from people who refuse to go to a repair specialist now is better than a raft of negative publicity when someone sues them for a zillion dollars because their cat jumped onto an iPhone they were repairing and cut its paw.
Uh those lawsuits make good newspaper copy but rarely if ever amount to anything. The “oh that stupid old lady who sued McDonalds because there coffee was too hot” for example is a good lesson. She did get scalded, there were plenty of complaints before then, and even though she “won” the final payout was cut to like a third. Something like $400k, which is a rounding error for McDonalds.
Mostly we need more regulation and less PI lawyers in this country.
Non-issue. Apple will do what has become the best business practice across much of the US in lieu of totally-coincidentally-no-longer-pressing tort reform. They’ll require buyers to sign a binding arbitration agreement and thus deny access to the courts. While right-to-repair might expose them to suits from unlicensed (i.e., no contracts) repair shops, and re-sale could complicate their ability to impose “consent” to arbitration, this sort of behavior on their part will radically reduce the quantity and quality of their exposure.
Actually, almost without exception, nearly every electronic device now in use includes in its TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF USE, subheading LEGAL, language which clearly states that by accepting the terms and using the product the user agrees to have any/all disputes with the manufacturer of said product be resolved by binding arbitration .. thus eliminating the vast majority of potential legal actions that might otherwise be filed against them, respectively. In every instance I have come across, failure to accept the TERMS prevents the item, program, device, etc. from operating .. in most instances not at all .. in a relatively small percentage at a less-than-100%-capability. Only in those situations where an accident/incident occurs with an item/program/device/etc. that is truly so far outside what could have been anticipated/expected might an individual/party find the potential legal bases on which a filing could be made. For the electronics industry to attempt or suggest that they are, in any way, concerned about potential liability should right-of-repair be made law is patently absurd, since the industry itself made sure to pretty much eliminate the potential of any sizeable liability suits, except for those instances of true corporate negligence.
That’s ridiculous. Manufacturers can easily absolve themselves of any liability when people try to repair their product. As long as there is boilerplate on the box and in the instruction manual. Manufacturers can and do create unsafe products, bu they also create products that may be unsafe if disassembled. Open up your microwave oven and grab the HV transformer leads.
In US law in torts cases there’s a thing called ‘contributory negligence’ that can be used by the defense against the claimant. Torts cases aren’t easy for claimants to win in the US.
Speaking as an IT guy with an interest in security – if releasing parts and repair guides allows those fiendish hackers to break the security mechanisms in the hardware, the security mechanisms aren’t worth (family blog)
It’s called security through obscurity and it has proven over and over again that it doesn’t work.
Not to mention that those people who are likely posing the biggest danger to your device’s security usually have the tools to reverse engineer the hardware already.
Cars are 100% consumer repairable, yes the electronics are getting John Deereish but nobody is stopping you from trying your best, so what’s more dangerous than an improperly repaired two ton car going 70mph, yet we are allowed to repair it. So much for Apple’s BS.
My thoughts exactly. Repairing your own phone is about as “dangerous” as repairing your cat flap, pencil sharpener or toilet paper dispenser. Why aren’t these Apple clowns laughed out of court?
We’re doing a pretty good job of laughing them out of the court of public opinion.
Let me add another example of recalcitrant industry: the car makers.
We have a 5-year old car from a German “premium” brand, which has driven 77,000 km (less than 50,000 miles), which is making funny noises when shifting gears and we are being told that we need to replace the entire transmission, because modern 6-speed transmissions are so complicated that you can’t just replace the $5 widget that is broken. Cost of the part $ 4,700 (more than 10% of the purchase price of the car), but they will “graciously” offer us a 50% discount. They still have not answered the question, whether we will need to replace that in a similar time frame or whether they have fixed, what appears (corroborated by repair shops) to be a wide-spread problem to the extent that the car maker is probably dodging a recall. The NC term crapification springs to mind.
Make a poster succinctly describing the above.
Attach it to flexible magnetic media, available at stationary or copy shops.
Leave the car parked with the sign attached to it facing traffic on a main street in front of the dealership on a Saturday.
Send a picture to headquarters and the advertising department at Audi? U.S.A.
The loss of of just one car sale will cost them more than replacing your transmission.
You will get a free replacement. Warranties are paid for by the manufacturer, not the dealer, who gets paid for doing the work.
It worked for us. Even better on a Toyota minivan, because the sides of the car become a rolling billboard all over town all week and parked strategically.
Non user-replaceable batteries in phones should be flat out banned.
15 years ago every phone used its own weird charging connector, so you had to pay bigly for any spare charger, car charger, or whatever, and you had to buy that stuff all over again when you changed phones. If you travelled with multiple phones for whatever reason, you needed a bag full of chargers for them, a separate special charger for each phone. It was the same situation with data cables (every phone had its own type).
What happened? China around 2008 required all phones sold in China to handle data and charging through the now-familiar USB Micro-B connector. So the phone makers switched to that connector worldwide (something like how all cars sold in the US now meet California emissions standards) and boom, that whole problem went away.
Apple claimed for years that the sealed battery was for increased performance, downplaying the obvious fact that it was planned obsolescence. Then the scandal broke that their software slowed down phones as the batteries were wearing out, so they did a 1 year $29 battery replacement program for old phones. They sold far more of those battery replacements than they expected to, and the next year their revenues took a sizeable hit, big enough that Tim Cook had to explain it to Wall Street: enough people had gotten their phone batteries replaced instead of upgrading, to affect the percentage by which Apple was the most profitable company in the world (or at least the sector, whatever). So that many million phones were kept out of the e-waste stream, which is a good thing. Apple was relying on undeserved profits from planned obsolescence and got caught out, and I’m shedding no tears.
Yes the sealed battery can make the phone a tiny bit smaller, but as we learned, few people care. Steve Jobs insisted that nobody wanted a phone bigger than 3.5″ (size of the old iphones) while Apple was getting clobbered by 5″ and bigger Android phones. Jobs kicked the bucket from taking quack cancer remedies and now Apple’s flagship phones are 5.5″ and bigger.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 from 2014 was every bit as thin and slick as Apple phones of its era, it is water resistant, AND it has a pop-off rear cover and user replaceable battery. It is completely fine to require all phone manufacturers to do the same, or at worst require makers of non-compliant models pay a significant enhanced recycling fee up front when the phone is manufactured or imported to the US.
Minnesota is a right to repair state. I have had phones repaired from screens to keyboards. Had duplicate phones, they swapped out parts. Funny they would not cite this as an example.
If Apple is so worried about the safety of humans than they’ve designed their factories and instructed their suppliers to maximize worker safety even if it means compromising profits, right?
ZDNet ain’t buyin’ Apple’s stupid reasons.
As Apple’s iPhone business hits soggy ground, the company redoubled its efforts to get a right to repair bill in California pulled, offering up a plainly stupid reason why owners shouldn’t fix their own iPhones.