North Texas Daily

The right to repair is crucial for consumers

The right to repair is crucial for consumers

The right to repair is crucial for consumers
October 01
12:00 2021

You’re outside walking with your phone in your hand. A second later, it slips out of your hand and hits the concrete below. You pick it up, hoping it is in good shape. You flip it over and reality sets in: the screen is cracked and you want to get it fixed.

Go to the Apple or Samsung authorized repair shop, and they recommend getting a new phone. The manufacturer has an incentive to sell you a new product. Apple quoted a repair for over $1,000, according to an investigation by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. All of this for a bent pin on a cable. The other option is an independent repair shop. They have the experience and the parts on hand. The repair is complete, but there’s a problem. Now the device pops an error and stops working.

The right to repair is essential. It allows consumers to keep using the devices they own for a fraction of the cost, time and waste generated by going to an authorized repair shop or getting a new phone.  

The Repair Association is one of the groups spearheading right-to-repair legislation across the globe, with their tagline reading, “It’s simple. You bought it, you should own it. Period.”

In May, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report on the right to repair, highlighting the issues of technological protection measures (TPM’s): “These protections may force consumers to have the maintenance and repair of their products performed by the manufacturers.” 

Apple has been sensitive regarding blocking repairs for unlocking methods on their biometrics, from Touch ID to Face ID. It claims to allow repairs on these sensitive components would open the door for hackers to replace them with faulty ones and gain access to your devices. 

A recent discovery in the iPhone 13 shows how TPMs work in action. There is a video showing how the Touch ID feature stops working after a third-party repair. Apple is not honest about its practices. Replacing the actual Touch ID sensors still allows for operation, while replacing the display disables it.  

Why wouldn’t a repair shop want to be authorized by the manufacturer? Louis Rossman, a repair activist, describes how repair shops cannot store parts needed for repairs, ordering them as needed, thus eliminating a timeliness advantage. Any current tools already in use would have to be destroyed, whether it be chip inventory or schematics. There’s a privacy concern as well, having to turn over personally identifiable information to the manufacturer. Being part of an authorized repair network would be a loss of business, as most repairs are not allowed in the program.

Apple is not the only company doing this either. Farming equipment company John Deere has also made moves to prevent unauthorized repair. 

Even a simple fix, like replacing an $800 fuel sensor, is a pain for farmers. John Deere doesn’t allow farmers access to error codes similar to those used by car OBD-II ports. For all a farmer knows, it could be a much bigger issue. Instead, farmers are in the dark, with no diagnostic tools or parts. They must take it to the dealer to get fixed. Walter Sewitzer, the president of the Montana Farmers Union had to send in his tractor, which then was freighted and stored as it was getting fixed for a total cost of $5,000, for a fuel sensor. 

There are, however, downsides to independent repair today. The main concern is the safety concerns of an improperly repaired product. In 2011, a phone on a plane exploded due to a misplaced screw inside the phone. It punctured the battery which caused a short circuit. Independent repair shops are not in a network. They do not have the same training and tools as those in the network with proper diagnostic tools and limited access to genuine parts. 

Manufacturers may be undermining their argument since easily replaceable parts are safer to repair. Making parts and repair manuals available would decrease the reliance on counterfeit parts and reduce the safety and security risks currently posed by independent repair.

The right to repair your property has existed in every industry, from cars to appliances and other electronic devices like older computers. You could call a hotline and order parts for your devices to make them run again and provide the knowledge as to how your device worked. If you own a device but can’t fix it even if you have the knowledge and tools, do you own it or are you renting it? 

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Chris Sotelo

Chris Sotelo

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