The Right to Repair Bill and What it Means for You the Consumer

Robert Turner

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Excited yet? You should be. If Congressman Joe Morelle gets his Fair Repair Act passed it will effectively put power back in the hands of the consumers. That's you and I. Everyone from a computer, cellphone, or laptop owner, to companies like McDonald's and even farmers, would have the right to repair their own electronic goods and yes, even their tractors.

Companies like Apple don't want you fiddling about with their products, even though, technically, it’s no longer theirs. You've paid over your hard-earned wages, but you still can't touch the phone without voiding the warranty and if you could, parts are not freely available.

The reason I mention Apple is that a recent case involving a woman and her iPhone, explains why you might want to do your own home repairs. Apple paid a multimillion-dollar settlement to an Oregon woman after repair techs the company had contracted published nude photos of her from her phone on her Facebook.

If she’d been able to make her own repairs at home, Apple would have saved themselves a few million dollars and the Oregon woman’s dignity would still be intact. 

Apple has been arguing to legislators that it needs to tightly control who is able to do repairs on iPhones and other Apple products. One of the core arguments it makes is that allowing “unauthorized” repair companies to fix iPhones will lead to privacy violations and will cause security problems.

In 2019 an Apple genius texted himself a personal photograph of a customer who’d come in looking for help with her phone. In 2016, Apple fired a group of employees in Australia after uncovering evidence the group had set up a website to share customer’s photographs.

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Our electronic devices are incredibly personal and contain our whole lives, often extending to parts of our lives we don't want to share with the rest of the world. Adding cameras to the devices and the ability to record video has simply expanded the opportunities for our privacy to be breached. 

That point of repair is when we are most vulnerable to privacy exploits, no matter the name of the manufacturer on the product.

Congressman Morelle (D-NY) says The Fair Repair Act would require manufacturers to provide device owners and independent repair stores access to the tools, parts, and information they need to fix electronics. In a statement, Morelles said;

“It’s long past time to level the playing field, which is why I’m so proud to introduce the Fair Repair Act and put the power back in the hands of consumers. This common-sense legislation will help make technology repairs more accessible and affordable for items from cell phones to laptops to farm equipment, finally giving individuals the autonomy they deserve.”

This bill allows for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to penalize those who violate these provisions through civil penalties including payment of damages, reformation of contracts, and refund of money or property.

It also empowers the FTC to promulgate any rules or regulations necessary to carry out these enforcement duties. The Fair Repair Act authorizes state attorneys general to enforce the bill’s provisions as well.

The Fair Repair Act has been met with praise by various consumer advocacy groups. Maureen Mahoney, the Senior Policy Analyst for Consumer Reports, had this to say: 

“If you own it, you should be able to fix it. We’re pleased that Congressman Morelle is taking the lead on legislation to ensure that consumers can fix their own electronic products, or have them repaired by the servicer of their choice. We support this important bill which will guarantee consumers the right to repair, which will help increase competition, reduce waste, and lower prices for repair.”

And from Nathan Proctor, U.S. PIRG Senior Campaign Director for Right to Repair;

“Right to Repair just makes sense. It saves money and it keeps electronics in use and off the scrap heap. It helps farmers keep equipment in the field and out of the dealership. No matter how many lobbyists Apple, Microsoft or John Deere and the rest of the manufacturers throw at us, Right to Repair keeps pushing ahead, thanks to champions like Rep. Joe Morelle."

Morelle had previously tried to pass right-to-repair legislation at the state level when he was Assembly Majority Leader of New York in 2018. The bill died before anyone could vote on it. But that was three years ago and a lot has changed. 

Covid happened and our reliance on electronics is now more entrenched than ever. Last week, the New York state Senate passed right-to-repair legislation similar to what Morelle has filed at Congress.

The Act is important because not only does it force manufacturers to provide the parts and tools required for repairs, it provides a framework through which they can be penalized if they don't comply. Clearly, there will be moves afoot from large tech to stifle the bill again.

This time they’re far less likely to succeed.

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A founder of Medika Life, We are driven to providing actionable and accurate health information for patients and professionals. We pride ourselves on highlighting patient needs and issues that directly impact access to care. I travel frequently and divide my time between Asia, England, and the US. Health fanatic, tech addict, and occasional surfer.

Dallas, TX
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