HANDS OFF!

Smart­phone mak­ers won’t let you tin­ker with their prod­ucts, but a ‘Right to Re­pair’ move­ment aims to change that.

Metro USA (Boston) - - FRONT PAGE - KRISTIN TOUS­SAINT @kristin­dakota kristin.tous­saint@metro.us

As it now stands, two op­tions ex­ist if your smart­phone, tablet or other dig­i­tal de­vice breaks: pay hun­dreds of dol­lars for a new one or pay hun­dreds of dol­lars to get the ex­ist­ing one re­paired by the man­u­fac­turer.

Among its fea­tures, Ap­ple’s iPhone 7 in­cludes one that pre­vents a con­sumer from mak­ing their own re­pairs to the home but­ton or other parts, which in pre­vi­ous iPhone gen­er­a­tions, could be fixed at in­de­pen­dent re­pair shops. In­de­pen­dent shops also have lim­ited to no ac­cess to re­place­ment parts for other prod­ucts, in­clud­ing MacBooks. Other de­vice mak­ers also with­hold in­for­ma­tion about how their prod­ucts work so that users can only have them ser­viced from the com­pany.

But that kind of ef­fort runs counter to the con­sumer’s best in­ter­ests, say ad­vo­cates of so-called “Right to Re­pair” laws that have been in­tro­duced in eight states, in­clud­ing Mas­sachusetts. The leg­is­la­tion would re­quire Ap­ple, Sam­sung and oth­ers to make avail­able any in­for­ma­tion or spe­cific parts — like a chip that con­tains the com­pany’s soft­ware — needed to re­pair the de­vice. That means in­stead of only be­ing able to go to Ap­ple, a con­sumer can bring their prod­uct to any qual­i­fied tech­ni­cian, who could use the in­struc­tions and ob­tain the parts needed to fix the prob­lem.

Gay Gordon Byrne, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the dig­i­tal ad­vo­cacy non­profit Re­pair As­so­ci­a­tion, said Ap­ple’s in­sis­tence that no one else be al­lowed to fix its de­vices cre­ates a monopoly and makes “the re­pairs so ex­pen­sive that the in­cen­tive is to buy a new one, al­ways.”

The Mas­sachusetts bill, which has been re­ferred to the com­mit­tee on Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion and Pro­fes­sional Li­cen­sure, is sched­uled to be heard in the fall. Sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion is be­ing de­bated in New York, Ne­braska, Min­nesota, Kansas, Wy­oming, Illi­nois and Ten­nessee.

Ap­ple did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, but has pushed back on the Right to Re­pair bills. In Fe­bru­ary, Vice’s Mother­board quoted a source that said “an Ap­ple rep­re­sen­ta­tive, staffer or lob­by­ist will tes­tify against the bill” at a hear­ing in Ne­braska, ar­gu­ing that if con­sumers tried to re­pair their own phones, it could cause the lithium bat­tery to catch fire.

These kinds of laws wouldn’t just ap­ply to smart­phones. In Europe, the av­er­age life of a re­frig­er­a­tor plum­meted from 14 years to five years, Byrne said. “It has noth­ing to do with the com­pres­sors. It has ev­ery­thing to do with the elec­tron­ics.” But, she added, if you “could fix your stuff, and you could fix it rea­son­ably, you can keep it for longer.”

“That’s where it re­ally stings the con­sumer,” she said. “We wind up throw­ing stuff away that we might pre­fer to fix. We don’t have the op­tion any­more.”

Years ago, an in­ter­nal di­a­gram of the de­vice or a ser­vice man­ual was in­cluded with the pur­chased item, she said.

“Man­u­fac­tur­ers stopped do­ing [that] be­cause it’s to their fi­nan­cial ad­van­tage to not do it,” Byrne said.

Mas­sachusetts was first on the “Right to Re­pair” law for cars

Mas­sachusetts paved the way in con­sumer pro­tec­tion with a pre­vi­ous “Right to Re­pair” law in 2012, which fo­cused on ve­hi­cle fixes. Be­fore that law, car man­u­fac­tur­ers were the only ones that had all the in­for­ma­tion needed to make re­pairs, cre­at­ing a monopoly.

Once passed, the law al­lowed in­di­vid­ual car own­ers and in­de­pen­dent re­pair shops to have the same in­for­ma­tion, mean­ing they could make the same re­pairs. That law quickly spread to all over 50 states.

“Once Mas­sachusetts passes this [dig­i­tal right to re­pair law], it will prob­a­bly have the same vi­ral take-up by other states,” said Byrne. “This is huge for con­sumer rights.”

“We wind up throw­ing stuff away that we might pre­fer to fix.”

Gay Gordon Byrne

GETTY IMAGES

Ap­ple has im­ple­mented soft­ware that pre­vents re­pairs not done at an Ap­ple store, a move that hurts con­sumer choice, Right to Re­pair ad­vo­cates say. FLICKR CREATIVE COM­MONS

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