Why is the “right to repair” gadgets and machines spreading?

IT WAS THE about-face. On November 17, Apple announced that it would give customers “who are comfortable doing their own repairs” access to specialized tools and parts to fix their broken iPhones. Until its announcement, the company had vigorously defended its long-standing policy of only allowing its technicians, or approved workshops, to tinker with its products. In the past, it even disabled iPhones that had been repaired by other means. For starters, Apple’s new policy will only apply to certain repairs, such as cracked screens and dead batteries in its latest models, and only for US customers. But the company said it would expand the program to more products and countries in the future.

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Apple’s change of mind is seen as a victory for a growing “right to repair” movement. Around the world, organizations like The Repair Association, a U.S. advocacy group, are combating manufacturers’ tendencies to prevent people from repairing their own property, whether it’s smart gadgets, cars, or machines. wash. Auto manufacturers are under increasing pressure. John Deere, a tractor manufacturer, is embroiled in a long row with farmers, many of whom have downloaded pirated software for their vehicles so they can perform repairs without going through an expensive authorized dealer. The right to redress is a popular cause. A YouGov survey last month, for example, found that 81% of Britons would support extending right to repair legislation to include smartphones, tablets and laptops (this already covers things like appliances and televisions). Politicians also appear to be on board. Twenty-seven US states are considering right to redress legislation, according to the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), a lobby group, though none have yet passed legislation. The European Parliament recently voted to tighten regulation in the EU, so some new electrical devices will need to be repairable for at least ten years.

The pandemic seems to have added urgency to the cause. Under lockdown, not only did people splurge on gadgets more, many found their local dealers closed when these devices needed repair. Occasionally, the exclusive interview became a matter of life and death. According to US PIRG, hospital technicians became enraged when they discovered they couldn’t quickly fix ventilators in overflowing intensive care units because they didn’t have immediate access to manuals and parts. This prompted several manufacturers, such as GE, to offer more service materials for free.

The arguments for a greater right to redress are compelling. The first is the meaning of moral justice. As the Repair Association’s slogan says, “We have the right to fix everything we own. The second is to stop price gouging. One of the reasons companies are so keen to maintain a monopoly on repairing the items they produce is that they may charge inflated prices for parts and labor (Apple did not again said how much iPhone repair tools will cost). This in turn fuels the so-called planned obsolescence. When the cost of changing a used smartphone battery is a high proportion of the purchase price of a new device, consumers are inevitably pushed towards it. In the YouGov survey, a quarter of people said they threw away their latest gadget without trying to fix it. It’s good for business, but bad for the environment. Apple says 80% of its emissions come from the manufacturing process. It’s this latest call for greater sustainability, alongside the threat of legislation, that seems to convince businesses to play along. Despite all of this, consumers can still find self-healing difficult. From Tesla to tractors, doorbells to dishwashers, goods are getting more and more complicated, stuffed with more computer chips than cogs. Anyone who does not have an insider’s knowledge of the code that operates such gadgets can still find themselves locked out.

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