Do your e-devices ever come with ‘how to fix’ manuals? So what happens when a piece of your e-device malfunctions or breaks out? Do you have the right to repair your e-products? Consumers with broken electronics turned to independent repair shops for help not very long ago; be it smashed screens of mobiles or clogged washing machines. But what now?
The newest generation of electronics is made purposely difficult to repair via legal copyrights, design, or the company’s encrypted software. This leaves the consumers with fewer to no repair options, and we, in turn, end up buying a whole new device rather than spending a fortune on repairing it.
The growing awareness of the unethical misconduct by tech and electronic giants has given birth to a global consumer movement, the ‘right to repair’ movement. But the problem of unrepairable electronic goods that looks shallow from above actually runs far deeper than we realize.
So, What is the Right to Repair Movement?
The right to repair has its roots in the dawn of the technological era in the 1950s. It is a proposal from the supporting advocates that demands practical means for individuals to repair electronic equipment themselves. Unfortunately, though repairing is a legal right under the patent and copyright laws, manufacturers often prohibit users from attempting their repair or taking the help of non-manufacture-authorized technicians; backed by the lack of preparing material such as tools device-independent parts, firmware, diagnostics, and documentation.
The sticker often pasted above screws, “Warranty Void if Removed,” limits the consumer’s right to repair, but warranties are just the tip of the iceberg. From devices as small as mobiles to climbing up to larger machines like cars, even tractors are intently designed to complicate the fixing even for the most trained technicians.
The right to repair movement aims to get tech companies to manufacture and avail spare parts, tools, and the needed information about their device in the market; enabling users and technicians to repair their products and increase their lifespan.
The Environmental Toll
Also named as the culture of “Planned Obsolescence,”; the abundance of electronic devices is burdening huge pressure on the environment. In 2019 alone, discarded electronic waste created an estimated 53.6 million tons of waste globally, astonishingly out of which only 17% was ever properly recycled. These e-wastes contain many heavy metals and complex compounds, including mercury, lead, and cadmium. Improper disposal of these toxic elements causes congenital disabilities, cancer, mutations, and other severe health risks.
Landfills overflowing with the in-combustible e-wastes, not to mention the burns energy and necessary raw material mining’s contribution to hiking greenhouse gases resulting in giving a hand to global warming. According to a 2017 research study, a single smartphone production emits an estimate of 40 to 80 kgs of CO2 equivalent; the same as driving a car for 200 miles.
Based on the recently released data by Apple, a New York Times report states, complete manufacturing of an iPhone “represents roughly 83 percent of its contribution to the heat-trapping emissions in the atmosphere throughout its life cycle.”
The manufacturer’s monopoly on repairing has resulted in an exponential surge in repairing prices. The high repair costs are another undeniable reason why more people tend to buy new gadgets rather than repairing old ones. The right to repair advocates claim that acceptance of the movement will generate employment and boost the business of small-scale repair shops, thus blooming the local economies.
But, as can be assumed, tech giants are not in support of the movement.
Why Does Electronic Manufacturers Are in Against the Movement?
Large manufacturers, especially Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Tesla, have long logged against the movement. The tech giants claim that opening up the company’s intellectual property in the hands of the third-party repair service provider or amateur repairer will impact the security and safety of their products. Tesla standing completely against the ‘right to repair,’ saying letting unauthorized technicians handle and repair their product would be gravely dangerous to the cyber and data security of the company.
On the other hand, Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak supports the movement, saying, “We wouldn’t have had an Apple had I not grown up in a very open technology world.” Recently Apple has also expanded its independent repair program across 200 countries, along with availing its’s products’ spare parts, repair information, and tools to be used for out of warranty repairs.
Right to Repair: Hitting the Hustings
Now, embracing the actions to reverse climate change and global warming, US president Joe Biden has recently passed an order for Federal Trade Commission, promoting the halt on anti-competitive restrictions that prohibits the consumer from repairing their device on their terms. In addition, governments around the globe are planning and executing policy changes to enable the consumer to have more rights over their devices.
Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director Corynne McSherry claims the right to repair movement is a complex pain point that is easier to talk about but would take strict regulations and tougher hassles to solve permanently. She says, “There’s a lot of software today that makes our devices smarter, but the cost of that is that it’s turning consumers into renters and not owners that don’t have a say over their electronics,”