A unanimous vote for the right to repair.
July 23, 2021 6:35 AM   Subscribe

"The FTC’s endorsement of the rules is not a surprise outcome; the issue of Right to Repair has been a remarkably bipartisan one, and the FTC itself issued a lengthy report in May that blasted manufacturers for restricting repairs. But the 5 to 0 vote signals the commission’s commitment to enforce both federal antitrust laws and a key law around consumer warranties - the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act - when it comes to personal device repairs."
posted by mhoye (35 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good. I hope to shortly hear the shrieking of the agricultural machinery manufactures faintly rolling across the landscape.
posted by jquinby at 6:48 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]


I know Apple's often given as an example of a company that opposes the right to repair, and yeah, I hope we can get our iPhone glass and batteries replaced more easily.

However, Apple's one of the only big companies that actually still takes privacy and security seriously, and parts like the camera and home button are a part of the "secure enclave" that helps keep a phone locked down from intruders (including the government). I worry that Right to Repair may inadvertently force a backdoor into devices, either as 3rd party parts won't be as secure, or somehow security is incompatible with the ability to replace the parts.

I don't envy the folks who need to write or interpret these laws to stop plain abuses like John Deere or auto makers who just want to milk users for repair money, but not hobble companies who want to ensure actual security or privacy.
posted by explosion at 7:11 AM on July 23 [10 favorites]


good.

without qualification really. Not that nothing bad will come of this. Of course, it will. Humans are involved. But it's a turn in fundamentally pragmatic direction.


isn't it?
posted by philip-random at 7:27 AM on July 23 [4 favorites]


My hope is that we eventually get mandatory unlockable firmware and bootloaders for devices no longer supported by their manufacturers.
posted by mhoye at 7:41 AM on July 23 [14 favorites]


I worry that Right to Repair may inadvertently force a backdoor into devices, either as 3rd party parts won't be as secure, or somehow security is incompatible with the ability to replace the parts.

Apple, of course, could solve that problem quickly and easily by offering on-spec Apple-manufactured replacement parts to repair shops at reasonable prices. Let's not pretend their current paradigm of physical security-by-obscurity-and-scarcity is making their users any safer. People are getting Apple devices repaired, Apple is just making it dangerous.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 7:52 AM on July 23 [39 favorites]


not hobble companies who want to ensure actual security or privacy.

That's fair, but there's a lot Apple (and other phone makers) could do to permit repairs without compromising that, like not using glue for so many parts. The number of serviceable (to say nothing of user serviceable) parts in current Apple products has dropped to almost nothing.
posted by jedicus at 7:54 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


I'm petty enough that I'm gonna just sit here and enjoy anything that pisses off both Tesla and John Deere at the same time.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 8:01 AM on July 23 [33 favorites]


I think the Apple discussion conflates two issues:
1. Design of things as disposable not reparable; and
2. Design of things which can be repaired, but require proprietary means.

While both are a problem, I think that only items falling into category 2 can be legislated.

We see this issue in building systems all the time. Elevators, fire alarm systems, lighting controls and automated HVAC are all areas where manufacturers actively claim market share by selling products which only they can maintain and expand upon. As buildings become increasingly complex (the marketing word is "smart") the problems of older proprietary systems compound. And even within one manufacturer they drop support for older systems eventually forcing upgrades.

I'm okay with a company dropping support only if they fully open up their system. Proprietary but unsupported is a category that should not exist. Instead it is a category that forces purchase of new systems.
posted by meinvt at 8:15 AM on July 23 [14 favorites]


Good. We can’t avoid to continue to live in a throw away culture, and I hope that the notion of repairability helps more standardization of components and goes hand and hand with long term supportability.

I’m sure Apple (and others) can innovate to be both serviceable and secure. I’m also sure manufacturers will do that in a way that will never satisfy everyone (like at the extreme end they aren’t going to open source all their firmware to satisfy hardcore hardware hackers to mess with and do super deep diagnostics etc) - but I am ok with that if what is offered is reasonable for majority of consumers (like if the top X% of likely hardware problems can be readily serviced - realizing that sometimes the right answer will always be you need a new one - like if you run over your phone with a steam roller).
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:30 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


It is really important to make the distinction between "repairable, but only by the OEM" (bad) and "not repairable" (bad, in a different way).

You can make a device that's compact, reliable, and has a limited lifespan by doing things like gluing components in place and making the case difficult to open. If you want user-replaceable parts, your device will necessarily be more bulky and be at least slightly more prone to faults, even if they're more easily repaired.

The market, to a large degree, has chosen for cheapness over robustness. We see this in shoes, we see this in clothes. I'm not surprised that manufacturers have found it difficult to market a (e.g.) TV that lasts twice as long but costs 20% more, and have decided to stop competing on that axis.
posted by explosion at 9:21 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I guess these guys the Framework Laptop must have timed this well .
posted by asra at 9:28 AM on July 23 [9 favorites]


If I were in the market for a laptop/could justify it, I'd be on one of those Framework laptops in a heartbeat. They look seriously snazzy.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:37 AM on July 23


I'd really like it if this move included the right to replace the darned battery in an Iphone (or any other device).
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 9:46 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Another wrinkle in all this: no matter how repairable/replaceable the hardware becomes, they can still make your device obsolete via the software updates.

Case in point: I don’t use my iPhone that much and haven’t experienced a breakage. I also don’t need/want the latest bells and whistles. So I’m not generally an early adopter, and instead wait until a model has already been superseded by a later one (or two), when you can snap up the older model much cheaper. But the danger to that is the new operating system updates will eventually begin to make older models clunky or obsolete well before the battery becomes an issue.

I bought a 3G in 2010 (after the 4 was released) that worked fine until the OS was eventually updated to no longer support it. I then bought a first-gen SE in 2017 (after X was released) and it’s been humming along just fine, but I know it’s days are numbered because any month now the latest OS will no longer support it. Repairability won’t help when that happens.

Which makes me wonder how much technology and software is integrated in, for example, GPS navigation for tractors, and whether they could say “Sure, now you can repair it all you want, but we’re upgrading the OS on your combine and your old equipment simply isn’t supported any more. Time to upgrade!”
posted by darkstar at 10:06 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I bought a 3G in 2010 (after the 4 was released) that worked fine until the OS was eventually updated to no longer support it. I then bought a first-gen SE in 2017 (after X was released) and it’s been humming along just fine, but I know it’s days are numbered because any month now the latest OS will no longer support it. Repairability won’t help when that happens.

It's ironic for someone to complain about Apple software support because Apple are the best ones in the business when it comes to long software support times on phones. iOS 15 is being supported on all 2GB devices which goes alllllll the way back to September 2015 with the iPhone 6S and includes your beloved first gen SE.

6 freaking years of updates. No Android vendor even comes close.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 10:16 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I think that only items falling into category 2 can be legislated.

While the rest of your point is spot-on, category 1 can of course be legislated as well, it's just often been very difficult to do so on a federal level.

Planned obsolescence is profitable and many of the biggest culprits in "disposable not reparable," such as the plastics industry, are connected directly to the extraction industries which command such a distorting influence on this discussion.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:34 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


My 6S+ is still going strong. It needs a battery replacement but is otherwise going great. And it's going to get more version upgrades than Windows will give my desktop. Both my phone and desktop were purchased in 2015, but the phone gets iOS 15 while the Skylake processor is deemed too obsolete for Windows 11.

The first gen SE not only gets iOS 15, but will also get security updates on iOS 14 if you don't want to upgrade the OS for some reason. I think it's 2 years of security updates. Your phone will be supported until some point in 2023. Six years for you. Eight years for me, if I haven't upgraded by then. It might get iOS 16 which will give you even more time.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 10:37 AM on July 23


This is great news! Not sure why we're letting ourselves get distracted by talking about how great/terrible Apple is. I literally had no idea that it's actually illegal to make a warranty void if the consumer repairs a product, and that those stupid stickers are completely unenforceable. This law has been on the books for nearly half a century, how is this not more widely known? I'm glad the FTC is going to start enforcing it more aggressively.
posted by biogeo at 10:38 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


And yeah, we could definitely legislate/regulate manufacturers' attempts to artificially make their products harder to repair. Just require there to be an appropriate design decision behind any element of the design that has the effect of restricting consumers' access to repair. Does your product include a plastic clamshell that's glued or welded shut? Better be able to explain why that's less expensive than a simple clip, or why you require a watertight seal. Using a weird security screw to make it harder to open? I look forward to your creative explanation for why a Phillips screw wouldn't work just as well. The regulatory burden doesn't even need to be especially high, just make violations a tort, and let the class action lawsuits bring companies into line.
posted by biogeo at 10:53 AM on July 23 [3 favorites]


Better be able to explain why that's less expensive than a simple clip, or why you require a watertight seal.

Preventing dust, moisture, insects, etc. from getting into a device is a pretty good reason.

There's definitely a lot of fuckery going on with some companies, but with the rate at which technology turns over, people are very happy to get 6 years out of a phone or computer before upgrading. Maximizing the chances that it lasts 6 years, even if it prevents some long-tail users from using it for 15 years isn't anti-consumer.

The Metafilter demographic skews much more tech-savvy and repair-oriented. If you told your average customer, "you may want to open up your PC/console every 3 months to dust it out," they'd say, "what? Why don't they seal it up so that dust can't get in?"

To be clear, I am very supportive of right-to-repair. But some of these design choices are primarily pro-consumer design choices that happen to inhibit repairs for a subset of users.
posted by explosion at 11:29 AM on July 23 [8 favorites]


6 freaking years of updates.

Amazing that we think of six years as a vast expanse of time.
posted by maxwelton at 11:32 AM on July 23 [12 favorites]


Amazing that we think of six years as a vast expanse of time..

Security flaws are discovered on a daily basis (across many platforms, just just iphone) so instead of 6 years, it's 2000 days. And the security flaws of tech are expected to be handled in a timely basis due to the number of people they can impact and lack of physical danger of entry, vs a master lock that someone with decent skills could pick in less than 5 minutes but the physical distance between locks and danger present behind every door acts as a cap.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:59 AM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Apple is certainly part of this conversation but it's not like they have a monopoly on disposable electronics, let alone vehicle manufacture/repair.

anti-consumer
I totally hear you explosion.

OTOH people as "consumers" is a part of the underlying issue for me, because a lot of "pro-consumer" features are also "pro-consumption," right? Plastic razors and disposable lighters (vs. e.g. the safety razor or Zippo) are easy heuristics for expressing this to people, but it scales up rapidly to cover the manufacture and sales of a variety of devices and components that drive down prices (pro-consumer) while making shittier/un-fixable/single-use products (pro-consumption).

It might be a sort of facile read, but on some level accepting that the economy is powered by "consumers" tacitly accepts that everything we purchase is to be consumed, which I do think is in rhetorical tension with the right to repair. It's not just semantic, either; or at least it seems like the semantics are part of what makes the legislation so difficult.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:50 PM on July 23 [4 favorites]


Keeping dust out of devices that are sensitive to it is a perfectly acceptable justification! But this isn't true of many products. We're not just talking about iPhones here (well I'm not, anyway -- and I don't think phones are actually usually glued shut anyway, are they?). I've personally had to open various devices for repair or modification over the years, and having the case be glued closed for no obvious reason is frustratingly common. It turns what should be a simple repair into a significant job that leaves the case permanently damaged. I remember a little hand-held metal detector I had to modify as a recent example that sticks in my mind. It may not even be a deliberate intention of the manufacturer to try to keep the end-user out, just an arbitrary choice to use glue instead of press-fit and snap clips. But an expansive interpretation of the right to repair says that any barrier to individuals' access to their own purchased products is problematic and to be avoided, regardless of intent. I'm not necessarily ready to defend this more expansive interpretation, my point is just that it's entirely possible to legislate it without unreasonable burden.
posted by biogeo at 2:42 PM on July 23 [2 favorites]


It’s not really obvious to me that the right to repair is some kind of inalienable right. It is important to me that someone can repair my car, but I don’t want to do my own repairs on most stuff. Also, most of my devices, like laptop, phone, etc have become less repairable, but much longer lasting at the same time.

I think capitalism is really bad at factoring in externalities, like the environment, and is often optimized against the little guy, like an independent repair person. But I think if Prop Joe’s repair shop goes out of business it will be because people didn’t want to repair stuff, not because the right to repair wasn’t protected.

I also think certain things could be dangerous if not repaired properly.
posted by snofoam at 3:11 PM on July 23


It is important to me that someone can repair my car, but I don’t want to do my own repairs on most stuff.

Right, but do you want your car to _only_ be repairable by Ford/Toyota/etc?
99.9% of people won't repair their own PC/phone/whatever, but having a robust repair market is as useful there as it is for cars.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:19 PM on July 23 [5 favorites]


And the focus on computers/phones (same thing really) I think is distracting --- due to the software/OS level concerns it gets more tricky (as others have said, a lack of OS updates would mean using an insecure device regardless of hardware).

But 99% of hardware does not have this issue. My TV is 13 years old and works fine. It does not need security updates because I do not connect it to a network (it does have that ability, but why would I). Most electronics are not connected to networks, even today, and will basically continue to function as-is until they break.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:23 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Right, but do you want your car to _only_ be repairable by Ford/Toyota/etc?
99.9% of people won't repair their own PC/phone/whatever, but having a robust repair market is as useful there as it is for cars.


I don’t personally agree. I think there is a robust repair market for cars because people need it. I actually chose a car that I knew I could repair in more places because I live on an island, so some makes are only repairable through the dealership. Once flash replaced spinning hard drive, my need to repair electronics basically dropped to zero. My laptop is 7 years old and still chugging along, but I will get a new one soon whether it dies or not, to be able to handle higher res video and other stuff that just needs more power now. My stuff is all Apple, and I prefer to have them repair or replace, so I get AppleCare for most stuff. I realize other companies don’t necessarily have the facilities to repair their own products, so I can understand how others may have a different experience than mine.
posted by snofoam at 3:33 PM on July 23


I don’t personally agree.

Fine, but have you actually read the article or the legal/ethical rationales for right to repair, particularly in the US?
posted by aspersioncast at 4:34 PM on July 23 [1 favorite]


Next up making planned obsolescence illegal?
posted by stilgar at 5:05 PM on July 23 [2 favorites]


Fine, but have you actually read the article or the legal/ethical rationales for right to repair, particularly in the US?

Yes, but I just don’t find it a convincing argument. In cases where I need repairs, I can already get them. I do it occasionally for mechanical stuff, like replacing the starter on a generator. And I have built tons of stuff out of scrap materials. For most electronics, I don’t need it. I also just don’t own much expensive stuff. They say it will create jobs, reduce waste, etc., which would be great, but it’s not obvious to me that it will in the real world. They say there’s no downside, but that’s not obvious to me, either. I think right to repair is kind of a fringe cause that happens to have a really vocal online presence.
posted by snofoam at 5:37 PM on July 23


like not using glue for so many parts

Modern manufacturing (and even construction) would throw a shit-fit if they couldn't use VHB™ tape. Die cut VHB holds almost everything together these days, and means you don't have to design in space (or stresses) for fasteners.
posted by scruss at 12:31 AM on July 24 [1 favorite]


snofoam: It’s not really obvious to me that the right to repair is some kind of inalienable right. It is important to me that someone can repair my car, but I don’t want to do my own repairs on most stuff.

I do! I strongly favour stuff that can be repaired, especially if it can be repaired by me. I own a smartphone with a replaceable battery (well, not officially replaceable, but it definitely can be done) and a custom OS to replace the outdated version of Cyanogen it came with. I own a smartwatch that can be opened (it has screws and a waterproof seal) to fix screen tearing or replace the battery. My laptop is the kind where you can remove the keyboard by loosening four screws.

Recently we decided we wanted a SodaStream to make carbonated drinks. We got one second hand for cheap, the seller said it was 'leaking a bit'. It turned out to be completely nonfunctional. So of course we tried to repair it. But we weren't successful. And we could not find any parts for sale.
So I wrote to the manufacturer asking them where we could get parts. They wrote me back, telling me to send the thing in and they'd fix it.
I printed out their form, not expecting much, after all we did not buy the thing new and did not have a receipt. I ticked the box for 'repair', not 'replace'.

What arrived three days later felt too heavy to be that same machine. And indeed it turned out to be an entirely new machine, of a different, more advanced model, with an extra water bottle, a gas cilinder and a bottle of syrup. Good customer service, yes*. At the same time, we wanted to repair something, not toss it into the trash, which is surely what ended up happening here.

Mixed feelings. But the water is fine.

* I do realise that the goal here is to sell us gas cilinder fillings and syrups forever.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:04 AM on July 24


I do!

Even if I am not really convinced that it is important to legislate a right to repair, I do support people advocating for the things that are important to them. So I can genuinely say that I support the right to fight for a right to repair.
posted by snofoam at 3:13 AM on July 24


It’s not really obvious to me that the right to repair is some kind of inalienable right. It is important to me that someone can repair my car, but I don’t want to do my own repairs on most stuff.

First, you're moving the goalposts a bit by implying people are trying to make it an inalienable right, which is a special category that refers to the great rights in US law, those of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unalienable rights cannot be taken away. Whether these rights are enforced acceptably is an open question. (The death penalty kind of makes a mockery of the first, imprisonment of the second, and what does "pursuit of happiness" even mean when people are forced to work long hours for poor wages?) Generally, they mean you cannot sign them away. Maybe right-to-repair should be one (certainly shrinkwrap licenses and EULAs could be used to force people to give them up), but I haven't seen people arguing for it here or in the linked article.

Someone's already covered the fact that going only by whether a law or rule affects you personally is a poor test of importance. But also, we live in a time of "smart" devices, that use what amount to computers to apply arbitrary tests to repairing, and guarding information needed for that repair. To talk to a car's computer, you have to buy a special machine from the manufacturer. Farmers have been fighting the John Deere corporation who has tried to claim the workings of their tractors are proprietary. There was a MeFi post just a couple of months ago about the problems with McDonalds and the company that makes their McFlurry machines trying to restrict how their devices can operate with others. Then there's the issue with printers that force you to buy manufacturer ink, and of course the business with Sodastream and Keurig machines. All of these things cause large artificial costs, that always favor the manufacturer, because they have control. That control inevitably gets turned into a source of additional profit, and more and more devices are going to wield software against their owners over time unless something is done about it.

(This comment was written at a sprint, please correct where mistaken, but be gentle.)
posted by JHarris at 11:37 AM on July 24 [7 favorites]


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