Microsoft Endorses Right to Repair; Apple Doubles Down on Opposition

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

I’m pleased to report some more good news on the right to repair beat: Microsoft has dropped its outright opposition to the concept.

As Grist reported last week, Bowing to investors, Microsoft will make its devices easier to fix:

In a first-of-its-kind victory for the right-to-repair movement, Microsoft has agreed to take concrete steps to facilitate the independent repair of its devices following pressure from its shareholders.

On Monday, Microsoft and the investor advocacy nonprofit As You Sow reached an agreement concerning a shareholder resolution As You Sow filed in June urging the tech company to analyze the “environmental and social benefits” of making device repair easier. After months of negotiations, Microsoft has agreed to comply — and then some. Not only will the company study how increasing access to the parts and information needed for repair can reduce its contributions to climate change and electronic waste, it has also agreed to act on the findings of that study by the end of next year.

Microsoft’s shift is the first of its kind and was in response to shareholder pressure. Let’s hope it’s not the last – especially given the burgeoning concern about climate change and other environmental issues, especially waste. Enacting a right to repair would help in mitigating climate change and environmental damage.

Per Grist:

This is the first time a U.S. manufacturer has agreed to change its repair policies following investor pressure. But it might not be the last: In September, Green Century, a mutual fund company focused on environmentally responsible investing, filed two similar right-to-repair resolutions, one with Apple and another with Deere & Co., the agricultural equipment manufacturer best known for the John Deere tractor.

Collectively, these resolutions represent a new front in the right-to-repair fight, one that explicitly links corporate environmental responsibility to repair policies. The battle is being led by shareholder organizations that have had success pressing companies for greater transparency on climate change. For instance, As You Sow has previously convinced the major utility Duke Energy to disclose the methane emissions associated with its natural gas infrastructure and pressed Twitter to report its carbon footprint.

“We’ve seen shareholder resolutions become a significant tool for climate activists,” Kerry Sheehan, the U.S. policy director at the repair guide site iFixit, told Grist. “We’re seeing it get adopted in the repair context as well in part because these are very connected.”
When consumers are unable to fix their devices quickly and cheaply, they’re more likely to buy new ones, and that has consequences for the planet. A significant fraction of the carbon emissions associated with the devices we own — 81 percent in the case of Apple’s new iPhone 13 — occur during manufacturing. Replacing our stuff before we need to causes those emissions, as well as the pollution, natural resource use, and land degradation associated with extracting and refining raw materials, to multiply. In the case of consumer electronics, it also leads to more toxic e-waste.

Now, I’m sure that Microsoft is also well aware that there’s a new sheriff in town at the Federal Trade Commission – newly-installed chair Lina Khan. Both the FTC and the Biden administration have declared their support for the right to repair. And in fact, support for the agency’s leadership broadly supports the new policy, with all five commissioners voting unanimously in July to issue a statement supporting the FTC’s new right to repair enforcement policy, as I discussed in this earlier post, FTC Votes 5-0 to Crack Down on Companies For Thwarting Right to Repair.

Now, although I applaud Microsoft’s volte face on the right to repair, I’m not unduly credulous and I’m certainly well aware that it’s necessary not to be seduced by the sweet nothings of corporate public relations.

Sheehan called the agreement between As You Sow and Microsoft a “step in the right direction,” adding that iFixit will be “closely watching” to see how Microsoft follows through and whether it changes its tune on right-to-repair legislation. Nathan Proctor, who heads the right-to-repair campaign at the nonprofit U.S. Public Research Interest Group, noted that Microsoft is still a member of lobbying groups that oppose right-to-repair bills, like the Entertainment Software Association.

“We really appreciate what they’re doing for this report, but if they show up to kill right-to-repair bills there’s still more work to be done,” Proctor said.

So, we shall see what we shall see.

The Evil Empire: Apple Doubles Down on Intransigence

Of, course, the same forces that inspired the Microsoft decision are also arrayed against Apple – which along with John Deere, remain the most intransigent opponents of the right to repair.

Not only has Apple not reconsidered its right to repair stance, it has recently implemented a policy regarding replacement of damaged displays on the new iPhone 13 range that effectively reiterates its opposition.

So if the FTC is looking for a test case for pressing its policy position on the right to repair, Apple presents a big fat target:

According to a recent Forbes piece, Apple Latest iPhone Repair Crackdown Goes Too Far:

iPhone owners have put up with a lot this year, from factories of scam apps and repeated examples of Apple ignoring security threats to the company’s work with foreign governments and its new CSAM detection system, which has proved to be a lightning rod of controversy. So if you were already thinking about quitting your iPhone, a shocking new report might just push you over the edge.

While Apple did not increase the sales price of its new iPhone 13 range, the lineup is going to become a lot more expensive to own after it was revealed that all damaged displays must be replaced by Apple or the company will disable Face ID, the primary way most users protect their phones.

Perhaps the most outlandish aspect to the news, is that this applies even if a third party repairer uses an official Apple iPhone 13 display. Consequently, when the phone is restarted the user will see the message “Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple display” and Face ID will be disabled.

Why is Apple doing this? Uhh, perhaps because it thinks it can. Per Forbes:

Several theories have guessed why Apple is doing this — from upping the stakes against Right to Repair efforts to combating cheap aftermarket parts — but the fact is Apple has been here before (literally) and by the time the iPhone 12 launched, it was deemed almost impossible to repair. With the iPhone 13, Apple has found another way to step this up.

As I read some of the remembrances of the late Steve Jobs published earlier this month to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, I wondered how what position he would have taken on the right to repair (see, e.g., this Wall Street Journal piece, Jony Ive on What He Misses Most About Steve Jobs).

For corporate Apple in its current form, I think it’s clear its opposition to any right to repair stems from a desire to maximize revenues – at least in the short term.

I’m not so sure that Jobs was driven by such naked short-term profit maximising concerns. Yet  If one sees a right to repair as antithetical to maintaining control over the integrity of one’s product, I’m not sure how Jobs, a famous perfectionist on this score, would have come out.

If, however, Jobs was still in touch with his tinkering roots, perhaps he would have endorsed the right to repair – as his early partner in crime, Steve Wozniak, recently did, and as I discussed in Steve Wozniak Endorses the Right to Repair.

Exciting days here on the right to repair beat. And the news inspires some cautious optimism.

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20 comments

  1. Brooklin Bridge

    Great news about Microsoft. Let’s hope that can be leverage applied to Apple and eventually Deere. That crack sound that everyone thought was a meteor entering the atmosphere? It was Apple ceo finally letting go.

    Facial recognition for pswd? Uggg. I just can’t understand why anyone would consent to such naked irreversible intrusion. I’m having to change banks because some idiot who knows nothing about computers decided that bio-metrics is cool sounding so it must be the way of the future.

    Reply
  2. barefoot charley

    I don’t want to repair my own software. I want Microsoft to leave it the family blog alone after I ‘buy’ it. Constant harassment via ‘upgrades’ using dark design to force me into the MSFT family of captive eyeballs, data-mining screensavers and msn.com-dependent features I want nothing to do with–can we repair that?

    Reply
    1. Michaelmas

      can we repair that?

      Ultimately, only by moving to Linux. These things drive me crazy too and they’re only going to get worse w. both Apple and MSFT.

      Reply
  3. Angie Neer

    I hope this announcement turns out to be meaningful, but comparisons between Microsoft and Apple are often not that useful—especially in this case. Microsoft is a software and services company. Apple is a hardware company. Sure, Microsoft does make some hardware, but it’s only around 10% of their revenue. Software is vital to Apple’s business, but they don’t sell it— it’s all about getting people to constantly buy new hardware. It’s a heckuva lot easier for one to embrace right-to-repair than the other. I say this as someone uses Macs every day, by choice, but I haven’t bought a new one since 2012.

    Reply
    1. ilpalazzo

      Actually Microsoft has made some parts replaceable in some devices of its latest Surface lineup that previously weren’t – like an SSD AFAIR. I guess they are hoping this will allow for easier adoption of these in corporate environment where MS has strong foothold.

      Reply
  4. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

    Back when I was a scrappy young hipster. Before my opinions put me into Moderation Purgatory. I always used Apple. From 1984 on. Little did I know as a young acid enthusiast and Noam Chomksy fan that I was being corralled into a brand.
    Microserf was the enemy, the behemoth that crushed the life out of entrepreneurialism. The amoebic monopole.
    But now it’s turned out the opposite. When you drill down, though they were really two tentacles of the Octopus all along. Remember when Billy G bailed Apple out of certain bakruptcy? So they’d have a fig leaf of competition and not stand alone as the only OS beside the whispy market share od that ne plus ultra of computational rebellious hipsterdom, LINUX.

    Reply
  5. flora

    Apple lost many, many longtime (as in decades long) apple enthusiasts who talked up Apple products once Mac/Apple slowly moved to ever increasing draconian no-right-to-repair corporate rules. Apple relying on a “Where ya gonna go?” mindset stopped working in the modern world of user demand. Turns out there are several other places to go. Microsoft moving to take market advantage over Apple in the right to repair question is simply a good marketing move. Fine by me. (I used to be a huge Apple promoter. Now? Whatever works the best in all envisioned scenarios, including repair options.) / ;)

    Reply
  6. The Rev Kev

    I’m going to take a stab at what is going on by saying that Microsoft has seen the writing on the wall and is playing it smart while Apple is, well, being Apple. The EU is a huge market that cannot be ignored and when they make a mandate, Silicon valley has to listen. Not that many years ago the EU mandated that new computers were not to be manufactured using toxic materials but to use lesser ones. The problem was with these toxic materials after those computers were scrapped. Silicon valley asked about deferements, exceptions, waivers and the like until they realized that the EU was serious. And now the EU is moving in the direction of repairable computers and the like to cut down on computer wastes.

    So recently the EU put out a mandate that computers use standard USB sockets to cut down of specialized cables that would end in waste. Apple had a fit about is as they want an Apple eco-system of cables, etc that you can only buy and repair through them. The EU has worked out that having computers that require esoteric repair procedures is just asking for more scrapped computers whereas ones that are robust enough to repair in local shops will lead to major reductions in computer wastage as well as encourage local repair industries and a population that may be more acclimatized to fixing their own computers rather than one that only knows how to turn one on. This will not end up well for Apple.

    Reply
  7. Sound of the Suburbs

    Things look better and better on the outside, and have more and more functionality.
    The trouble is, they just don’t seem to last very long.

    There is no real incentive for companies to make things last for a long time.
    If things do last a long time, people won’t be buying replacements.

    The most obvious thing is something I never see suggested.
    Ban advertising.
    Advertising gets you to buy things you didn’t actually want in the first place.
    We’d all be better off without it.

    Reply
    1. James Simpson

      Banning advertising in a capitalist society makes little sense. The economy has to keep growing at any cost, even if the eventual result is the extinction of most life on the planet. Socialism is needed if an advertising ban is to be implemented.

      Reply
      1. Sound of the Suburbs

        That’s very black and white.
        I do think people need to be incentivised with the prospect of earning more, but today’s differentials are crazy.

        There is a good video on this, and my view does seem to be pretty common.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM&t=7s
        It shows:
        1) What people think the wealth distribution should be
        2) What they think it is
        3) What it really is, it’s pretty bad

        My friend runs a small firm, and I can see the acceptable face capitalism can present.
        He wants a well oiled machine that runs well.
        There may be big cogs and small cogs, but this machine needs all those cogs turning together.
        He doesn’t want good people to leave, as he knows getting a good replacement is easier said than done. He will pay a good rate for good people to keep them.
        He tries to keep them happy and organises occasional social events for the staff so they feel valued. The last thing he wants is for his staff to think he is just using them, or that he is taking advantage of them.
        This is his money machine and he wants it to run in the best way it possibly can.
        Everyone does well out of this arrangement and he makes lots of money.

        This is good capitalism.
        What are we doing to it to make it so bad?

        Reply
  8. Mikerw0

    Easy to explain. Apple, like many other companies, is addicted to quarterly earnings growth to drive their stock price. Replace, not repair (uh, upgrade for marginal feature enhancements) is their game.

    Reply
  9. Kelly in Texas

    Microsoft is coming out with windows 11. If you have a windows 10 computer today you’ll notice a new banner that comes in the updates part of settings.
    When it appeared on my computer it said my processor wasn’t up to snuff. When I looked into it, turns out there’s a list of “acceptable” processors and mine’s not on it even though it’s an intel i5. Runs great, and I have edge and office 19.
    I have three computers in the house with i5 or i7 processors and NONE of them are on the list.
    That means that I have four years of support left. Then microsoft abandons me.
    This effectively takes them over into the world of hardware obsolescence since I have to considerably modify the computer or toss it for another one.
    It’s just as bad or worse than “right to repair” in that it causes unnecessary waste of hardware when there’s not really anything wrong with it.
    I know all about linux and use puppy linux. But I also have a lot of files and applications that work in windows and not in linux.

    Reply
    1. Bob White

      My experience with Linux/Windows may help you…
      I have a dual-boot computer with Windows 10 and UbuntuStudio
      Linux now has very good alternatives to Windows programs (with some exceptions).
      The only program I now have to use Windows for is QuickBooks.
      GNUcash is good for personal bookkeeping, but not for business.
      Hope this helps…

      Reply

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