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.
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.