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Biden’s FTC may force tech companies to let you repair your devices

Gadget manufacturers such as Apple have said that allowing consumers to repair their own tech could lead to safety issues and environmental damage.

Biden’s FTC may force tech companies to let you repair your devices
[Photo: Jonny Caspari/Unsplash]

The Biden Administration will reportedly ask the Federal Trade Commission to write rules preventing tech companies from prohibiting customers from fixing their own devices or having them fixed by private repair shops, reports Bloomberg’s Justin Sink.

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The FTC’s rules may address a number of different industries—from defense contracting to farming machinery—but will likely mention the mobile phone industry by name. They could also have a major impact on how other consumer technology products such as game consoles get repaired. Companies such as Apple and Microsoft have placed rigid restrictions within their product warranties on what kinds of repairs consumers can implement themselves or seek from any third-party service facility, and which ones must be repaired by the tech company itself or one of its contract service centers.

“This groundbreaking move is hugely important to restore competition to the marketplace, says Kyle Wiens, the CEO of do-it-yourself repair company iFixit. “For too long, local repair shops and consumers have been sidelined as Big Tech has sought larger and larger monopoly profits.”

Wiens says the FTC has actually been working on “right to repair” for some time. In early May, the agency released to Congress an exhaustive bipartisan report on the matter called “Nixing the Fix.” The report found that while manufacturers may have legitimate fears about self-repair, there’s evidence that restrictions on repairs drive consumers into the manufacturers’ own repair networks or cause consumers to prematurely abandon devices for new ones.

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Phone makers have said that allowing consumers to repair their own tech could lead to safety risks associated with tasks such as replacing a device’s power supply. Right-to-repair proponents such as Kiens have said repair restrictions ultimately harm the environment because consumers are more likely to just throw away their device rather than endure the time, trouble, and expense of sending it in for repair.

Manufacturers use more than just warrantee terms to prevent people from repairing their own devices. “These manufacturers have restricted access to basic diagnostic information, tools, and replacement parts needed to make those repairs,” said Consumer Reports senior policy analyst Maureen Mahoney in a statement. “These tactics force consumers to rely on the manufacturer or its handpicked servicers. Without competition and choice, repair costs get inflated.”

There’s broad bipartisan support for increasing consumers’ repair rights. Twenty-seven states introduced right-to-repair laws this year. And in Congress, the Fair Repair Act was introduced by Representative Joseph Morelle, a Democrat from New York, on June 17.

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The presidential order to the FTC will show up in the next few days, and the FTC will ultimately decide the scope and features of the new rules. They will be broader than the tech-related elements, and will address airlines, agriculture, and other business sectors.

The FTC may take a few cues from the European Commission, which announced plans for its own right-to-repair rules last year. The EU rules will focus on repairs of smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

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About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.

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