Right to Repair: What is it, why Apple is resisting while co-founder Steve Wozniak is supporting it

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Updated: August 08, 2021 4:09 PM

Tech companies like Microsoft and Apple are actively resisting the Right to Repair movement.

Here’s everything you need to know about the right to repair movement. (Image: iFixit)

Right to repair: The right to repair movement has been gaining pace recently. Even though this is just one of the many tiffs between technology entities and consumers, it is a movement that is gaining momentum not only because of its claims of preventing consumers against exploitation, but also because of the purported benefits to the environment. Here’s everything you need to know about the right to repair movement.

Right to Repair movement explained

The Right to Repair movement had started as a vehicle repair policy and then reached the electrical appliance industry. The movement basically demands that manufacturers make authentic spare parts of a product available to buyers of that product, giving them the power to get their product repaired from independent repair shops instead of depending solely on the manufacturer for authentic parts.

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Now, the movement has also spread to the technology industry, especially in response to planned obsolescence, which is basically a phenomenon in which tech companies knowingly slow down older models or products so that consumers buy the newer ones and drive up the sales. Essentially, this is an exploitation of consumers, forcing them to pay for a new phone when the previous one does not have any issues and are being slowed down deliberately without the device having any hardware issues. Most tech companies also require devices to be repaired only from company-approved or authorised repair shops, and not independent repair shops or else it would impact the device’s warranty.

While earlier, consumers were still able to go and get their devices repaired from third-party independent repair shops if they were okay with losing the company warranty, now that option has pretty much been eliminated since companies have started manufacturing devices in a manner that unauthorised repair shops cannot even open them. For example, iPhone maker Apple has a proprietary five-point screw in its phones that cannot be opened by anyone but Apple or its authorised service centres, which means that consumers are not left with any choice to get their device repaired from elsewhere.

The Right to Repair movement calls for manufacturers to make authentic parts available to consumers so that they can get their device repaired from independent shops as well, if they so desire. The movement stems from the fact that in the absence of competition, the manufacturer can fix the cost of repair as high as they want since their authorised centres would also adhere to that cost itself, which would leave users with no cheaper alternative, resulting in consumer exploitation.

The movement is also aimed at the protection of the environment, with advocates saying that they were of the view that production of more devices put additional pressure on the environment and also caused wastage of natural resources.

Right to Repair movement: Resistance from companies

Big tech companies like Microsoft and Apple are actively resisting the Right to Repair movement, which is understandable because it would cause them to give away on their revenue generation from servicing the devices. However, apart from that, the manufacturers would also need to give their repair manuals which could lead to them having to part with some proprietary information, compromising on their trade secrets.

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Another argument against the Right to Repair movement is the safety risk it poses. With the free hand to independent repair shops, consumers could end up being vulnerable to repair shops that do not have authentic parts or manuals, ultimately damaging their device. In more extreme cases there could also be malevolent repair shops, and handing over the device to such shops could compromise with the security and privacy of the user.

On the contrary, though, users would still have the option of heading to authorised service centres even if independent repair shops were allowed to repair the devices, which would mean that the users would have a choice to decide where they wanted to get their device repaired from. The movement could pose safety risks, but it likely aims to free consumers from being coerced into paying hefty prices for getting the devices repaired with authentic parts from select shops that may even be inconveniently far from them.

What has Steve Wozniak said about the Right to Repair movement?

While tech giants have been strongly opposing the Right to Repair movement, Steve Wozniak has taken a firm stand in disagreeing with these companies. In a video, the Apple Co-Founder said that if he had not grown in a very open-technology world, Apple would not have been built to begin with, adding that he believed that people behind the movement were doing the right thing and that the movement needed to be recognised more fully.

In a key development for the movement, even the US President Joe Biden has recently passed an executive order on promoting economic competition that directs the Federal Trade Commission to formulate rules that would curb anticompetitive restrictions that are currently stopping consumers from getting their devices repaired on the terms that they desire.

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