James Walker

James Walker

Web Developer

Right to repair: Why tech giants want to stop you fixing devices

Published on Wednesday May 10 2017 at 08:27 in News Editorials

The right to repair movement focuses on reversing the trend of embedding proprietary software into everyday equipment. Proponents of the idea have called attention to the increasing inability to repair devices ranging from smartphones to farm vehicles. In this post, I explore the increasing visibility of the concept and the opposition pitched by tech companies.

In the modern world, ease of repair is being progressively eroded. The use of software in products like household appliances and cars makes it harder for a typical owner to fix something if it goes wrong. Without knowledge of the product's programming, even basic problems can't be remedied.

Firms like Apple intend you to bring your device to an official repairer if it needs fixing, actively preventing you from mending it yourself. If you try to, you'll face a myriad of complex disassembly procedures, using tools and screw types developed specifically for the phone. Apple's not alone in going out of its way to stop you opening its devices – according to repair guide specialists iFixit, Samsung's Galaxy S8 is also all but impossible to fix.

The discontent around the locked-down nature of modern devices has inspired several right-to-repair bill proposals in U.S. states. They've met with fierce opposition and the right to repair isn't yet in law in the U.S. This year, a trial bill in Nebraska was shelved after lawmakers conceded to pressure from the corporations who've pledged to aggressively fight it.

Other right to repair bills are facing similar issues. Proposals are now being considered in New York, Massachusetts, Kansas, Wyoming, Illinois and Tennessee, as well as Nebraska and Minnesota. Representatives of the industry giants fighting the movement are attending each hearing, lobbying lawmakers against the idea. In Europe, basic and little-known legislation already exists. It stops far short of the complete bills being devised for the U.S.

The farmers and repair organisations trying to push the bills forward lack the strength of backing that the opposition has in plentiful supply. While momentum is rising, supporting groups recognise there's a long path ahead before consumer rights to repair are universally recognised.

The response to the movement so far – both from the industry and consumers – has affirmed the importance of the cause, demonstrating it's worthy of lawmakers' attention. Although there's yet to be any major wins, each case increases the visibility of the movement and helps to build support for the idea.

Enjoyed this excerpt? Read my full report for Digital Journal to learn more about the right to repair movement, its supporters and the opposition.