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When your device breaks, you don’t have much choice in where or how you repair it. You have only two expensive options: go to the manufacturer or buy a new device. That’s because manufacturers don’t provide documentation or tools that could enable repairs by third parties. A “right to repair” law can change that.
Jan 08, 2021 · 3 min read
In the pre-digital world, you could repair or tinker with any equipment you owned or hire a third party to do so for you. Your wheelbarrow lost a wheel? Just replace the missing part or upgrade it to a newer one.
It all changed with electronics. To safely repair them, you need access to their code, technical information, diagnostic tools, and spare parts. Manufacturers refuse to provide these essentials, ban editing their code, and sometimes install software that prevents unauthorized repairs.
A right to repair law would require manufacturers to provide all the necessary tools, documentation, and access to the device’s software. Manufacturers would also need to make replacement parts available for purchase to consumers or independent repair vendors.
Manufacturers use their monopoly on repairs for extraordinary gain. They can mark up replacement parts by hundreds of dollars. Or they may inflate the repair price to force you into buying a new device instead of fixing the old one.
You could go to a nearby repair shop and get your phone back in a day, but you’ll risk losing the warranty on your device, and there’s no guarantee that the “repair” won’t make the problem worse. To have a device repaired safely, you need to find an authorized vendor and wait potentially weeks. It’s not just phones or laptops — if a combine harvester breaks down, a farmer may have to wait several precious days for an official technician to show up.
That’s why Apple, Microsoft, and even agricultural equipment manufacturers like John Deere oppose right to repair bills.
Apple and other tech giants claim that their products are too complex to be repaired by independent vendors. They argue it could compromise consumer security, privacy, and safety.
Cybersecurity experts disagree, claiming these are scare tactics — according to them, Apple devices can be repaired by third parties without compromising anyone’s security. In fact, to make the repair as safe as possible, Apple could release documentation and diagnostic tools.
If you’re worried about privacy, there are always practical steps you can take in day-to-day life. Using a VPN, for example, will encrypt your traffic and change your IP address. But it’s also important to argue for new right to repair laws, as they would strengthen your control over your own data.
Some software and hardware in your devices isn’t there for your benefit. It’s been added to monetize you and your online activity. Your slick new phone, that suspiciously cheap fitness tracker, and even your car could be collecting and selling your data.
Your freedom to modify devices would disrupt this business model, which is built on surreptitiously gathering your data. Instead of having to read fine print and navigate dark patterns in app privacy settings, you could hire a professional to privacy-proof your connected devices, from your phone and laptop to your Roomba and smart fridge.
This is a global movement, but the right to the repair activists are especially active in the USA.
At first, the states took the initiative to legislate the right to repair. In 2012, Massachusetts passed a right to repair bill aimed at automakers, which became the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act. Today, the debate has taken a national focus, with federal legislation in the works.
The European Union has also engaged with this issue and even passed some right to repair legislation. It’s still not comprehensive, however, and leaves the consumer capacity to repair devices limited.
The right to repair movement argues that:
In other words, if you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.
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