As phones and other consumer devices have gained convenience after convenience, the head of this invisible pack has also diminished in how easily they can repair with Apple Pal. The FTC noted, however, that the agency has been weak on this front but would go on to prioritize how companies can improve, repossess and reuse their property as there may be unlawful restrictions by those companies.
Devices today are mostly made without any concessions for easy repairs or upgrades, or even regular upgrades such as adding RAM once or replacing a sick battery. While companies like Apple Pull have long supported hardware in some respects, the trade-off seems to be that if you crack your screen, the manufacturer is the only real option to fix it.
That’s a problem for a number of reasons, as right-to-repair activist and iFixit founder Kyle Wines has been arguing indefinitely for years (the company proudly posted the statement on its blog). The FTC sought comment on the issue in 2019, released a report a few months ago on the state of things, and has now issued a policy statement (excited by the green light by new chair Leena Khan in all matters that scare big chiropractors).
The gist of the unanimously approved statements is that they have discovered that there can be serious repercussions in the practice of deliberately banning repairs, especially for those who do not (and once did) have the cash to pay the tax. Repairs
The report of the Commission on Repair Restrictions explores and discusses a number of these issues and describes the repairs made to the hardships created for families and businesses. The Commission is concerned that this burden is being borne more by underworld communities, including communities of color and low-income Americans. The epidemic has exacerbated these effects as consumers rely more on technology than before.
While illegal repair restrictions have not been a priority for the Commission’s implementation for many years, the Commission has decided that it will dedicate more implementation resources to combat these practices. Accordingly, the Commission will now prioritize the investigation of illegal repair prohibitions under the relevant laws …
The statement then makes four basic points. First, it reiterates the need for consumers and other public bodies to report and characterize what they perceive as unfair or problematic repair restrictions. The FTC does not go out and investigate spontaneous companies, it usually needs a complaint to put the wheels in motion, as people allege that Facebook is misusing their data.
Another surprise is the anti-trust tie-in, where the FTC was asked to answer whether monopolistic methods such as construction and exclusion design were in play. This could be something like refusing to allow upgrades, then charging an order of magnitude higher than the market price for something like storage or some extra jigs of RAM, or designing products in a way that fuels competition. Or perhaps an arbitrary warranty breach for matters such as removing the screw or taking the device to a third party for repair. (Of course, depending on the monopoly position or market power for this company to establish, the FTC had trouble doing something.)
Further, in line with the FTC’s general commercial rules, it will assess whether sanctions are “unfair acts or practices” that are too broad and easy to meet the requirements. There is no need to claim an “open standard” for misleading, or a monopoly for a hidden setting to slow down the operation of third party applications or peripherals.
And finally the agency mentions that it will work with states under pressure to establish new rules and regulations. This is probably the case with a “right to temporaryization” bill passed by Massachusetts last year. Successes and failures along those lines will be taken into account and the Fed and state policymakers will compare notes.
This is not the first movement in this direction in the long run, but it is a simple place. Tech companies have seen the writing on the wall, and done things like expanding independent repair programs – but it is arguable that these actions were taken in anticipation of the FTC’s expected shift toward establishing strict lines on the subject.
The FTC is not showing its full hand here, but it is certainly signaling that it is ready to play if the companies involved want to advance their fortunes. We’ll learn more once he starts investing in customer complaints and making a picture of the repair landscape.