You may not think of yourself as “handy,” so the thought may not even have crossed your mind to take apart your cell phone or laptop to try and repair it. But did you know that in certain cases it might be illegal for you to even try? There is a debate raging over the “right to repair.”
The right to repair issue crosses many products. Car enthusiasts have fought to access parts and guides to repair their vehicles. Farmers are pushing for the right to fix their John Deere agricultural equipment. Now, there are people lobbying for the right to fix laptops, cell phones, and other electronics.
Manufacturers, meanwhile, maintain that doing so risks their intellectual property. There may also be safety risks.
Additionally, they make money from planned obsolescence. Many PC users know what this means already. Anyone on the widely popular Windows 7 operating system had to move to new software in 2020. Microsoft is on a ten-year cycle. It provides a software product its full attention for five years, then it begins offering new options and stops supporting the old one. At the end of the decade, the software is no longer updated or supported. That means no security patches either, which means vulnerability to cyberattacks, so users must go to the next version.
Now, you’re not going to build your own operating system, but what about when something goes wrong with your smartphone or tablet? You don’t always want to have to buy a new one. Plus, trading out the old one for a new device runs counter to sustainability goals. You end up with one more piece of hardware destined for the landfill.
Right to Repair Activism
Consumers, repair pros, watchdogs, and green activists have all joined the right to repair debate. They want to be able to upgrade processing power, memory, or battery power in electronics.
But many companies refuse to release the necessary parts (e.g. Apple). Manuals and product guides aren’t made available either. This makes it almost impossible to do-it-yourself repair the company’s products. The consumer must pay the manufacturer for repairs, or they can turn to a third-party vendor (affiliated with the manufacturer).
When it comes to technology, the tide may be turning. Why? We are increasingly reliant on our phones and other devices. There’s more pushback against a business model that forces us to upgrade every two to four years.
Plus, we’re more aware globally of the value of recycling and upcycling. One American grassroots group notes that repairing tech could bridge the digital divide. PCs for People wants to improve access to technology by rebuilding donated devices.
What It Means for You
Laws are in the works in many places to legislate the right to repair. In the U.S., Apple and Tesla are among those lobbying against state efforts. Nevertheless, 14 states have passed laws on right to repair. The EU has a law requiring companies to provide parts to independent repair workers. The UK’s right to repair regulations come into effect this year. Australia is currently assessing its laws related to the right to repair, too.
Until laws change, consumers pay whatever the manufacturer demands for products that aren’t built to last. This also has each of us contributing to global technology waste. For more on the issue, visit repair.org, the site of the Digital Right to Repair Coalition.