Mashable Says You Shouldn't Own What You Buy Because You Might Hurt Yourself

from the that's-just-wrong dept

The news site Mashable has apparently decided that you, the general public, are simply too dumb to actually own the stuff you thought you bought because you might just injure yourself. We’ve written about so-called “right to repair” laws and why they’re so important. There are a variety of issues, but the most basic one here is about property rights. If you buy something, it’s supposed to be yours. It doesn’t remain the property of whoever first made it. And they shouldn’t then be able to deny you the ability to tinker with, modify, or repair what you bought. However, Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff (last seen here being completely clueless about the importance of anonymity online because he, personally, never could see a reason why someone might want to speak truth to power without revealing who they are), has decided that because you might be too dumb to properly repair stuff, the entire “right to repair” concept “is a dumb idea.”

The article can basically be summed up as “I have a friend, and her iPhone wasn’t repaired properly, so no one should be able to repair your iPhone but Apple.” Really.

My co-worker, Tracey, held her iPhone like a baby bird with a bent wing. 

I stared at the dark screen. The device was still on, but stuck somewhere between living technology and a dead iPhone. Tracey said that the device made a popping sound and got really hot in one corner while she was making a phone call. Then, her screen cracked, and burnt her ear. She wanted to know what to do. She explained the incident happened shortly after having third-party iPhone screen repair company iCracked replace her shattered iPhone 6 screen. iCracked was ready to let the original technician repair her phone again. I warned her against it. The phone was obviously dangerous?and letting them touch it again probably wouldn?t help. In fact, I thought it might hurt.

Getting past the “using a single anecdote to generalize to absolutely everyone,” this still makes no sense. If we want to rule that any kind of repair/modification/tinkering shouldn’t be allowed if it might not work right, well… there goes the entire DIY space. This weekend I repaired a broken toilet. It’s entirely possible that I could have messed it up (in fact, I did at first, but after a couple of helpful YouTube videos, I got it figured out). Should I not have been allowed to do that? Should I have had to call a plumber who would have charged me $150 just to walk in the door? Lance Ulanoff apparently thinks that’s the case. I’m not exactly a handyman, but over the years, I’ve repaired a ton of stuff in my house from broken dishwashers, computers, garage door openers and more. And sure, if I did it wrong, it could have been dangerous (that garage door opener, in particular, was pretty tricky). But do we really want to live in such a paternalistic society that we shouldn’t even be allowed to do that? That seems to be the crux of Ulanoff’s article.

Right-to-Repair? What a ridiculous thing to say. No one has the right to repair anything. You might have the skill to repair something (something that iCracked tech might’ve lacked). And you can hand people all the schematics, instructions, and parts you want and they still won?t be able to replace an iPhone battery or screen.

This is an even sillier argument. His complaint here is with the semantics. It’s called a “right to repair,” but of course no one’s saying everyone will have the ability. The question is whether or not you can even try to repair something that you bought. It’s really a question of property rights and whether or not you are breaking the law just trying to tinker with something.

The wonderful world of innovation we live in is built off of people tinkering. The computer industry that makes Mashable possible only exists because a bunch of people were tinkering with different devices and built multiple massive industries out of it. But, Ulanoff is effectively saying that all needs to stop now. Only approved sources can tinker.

Later, Ulanoff tries to clarify that he’s fine with people being able to repair stuff… if it has moving parts.

It?s not that I don?t believe in better-built products and repairability. We need tightening against planned obsolescence cycles?TV sets that once lasted 25 years now fail after five. I?m also a tinkerer. I?ve taken apart everything from VCRs to BlackBerry Curve phones and their classic scroll buttons. When I see moving parts, I think: repairability. Today?s phones have almost no moving parts. At least the iPhone 6 had a moveable home button. The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus don?t even have that.

Why the distinction? Who the hell knows? Ulanoff never explains it beyond “when I see moving parts, I think: repairability.” Well, good for you Lance. Have a cookie. Not everyone sees the world the way you do. Some people like — for example — replacing the significantly weakened battery on their phones so that they can make it last a lot longer. Some people like to replace their cracked screens rather than having to buy a new phone.

But, in the end, Ulanoff is just really concerned that you’re just too dumb and you’re going to hurt yourself:

I think it?s a fair concern that Right-to-Repair laws could lead to an explosion of Radio Shack-like iPhone and Samsung electronics parts shops. Consumers will wander in with broken iPhone and Samsung Galaxy screens, and walk out with all the parts and tools they need to repair them. And they will fail, miserably.

Plus, what if a consumer’s injured during a failed repair attempt? They slice open a finger on the cracked glass, or put it back together incorrectly, so the battery fails (and maybe even explodes). It?s the consumer?s fault, obviously, but they could also try to sue Apple or Samsung.

Try to sue? Sure. Succeed at suing? No. And, really, is that the big concern here? No one should be allowed to tinker with their own devices because they might fuck it up and sue Apple. What?

In the end, once again, this is a question of whether or not people actually own what they buy. Ulanoff, by default, seems to be saying they shouldn’t be able to do so. Because they might hurt themselves. Because they’re too dumb to know that glass might cut them if not handled properly. But is that really the job of our laws (including copyright law, which is a key component in blocking people from repairing their own phones…) to say “you can’t fix or modify something you bought because you’re an idiot”? Ulanoff, like in his silly article about not seeing any need for anonymity, apparently doesn’t see any need for people to fix their own stuff. Even worse, because he doesn’t see such a need for himself, or his friend Tracey, he’s decided it’s a-ok for the law to clamp down on people who actually are competent and actually are able to modify, tinker or repair products such as phones.

This seems like a very odd way for Mashable to create its opinion pieces. Having some random dude extrapolate his own experiences to apply across everyone. Folks at Mashable responded to lots of people mocking Ulanoff’s silly piece by pointing out that it also published a counterpoint. But, as I’ve noted, this is why I find point/counterpoint arguments so useless. It puts the two arguments on an equal footing and suggests that “welp, you decide.” That’s silly. Ulanoff’s argument makes no sense and is based on nothing more than his own confusion about how the world works. Mashable should feel bad about publishing such an article and pretending it’s legit journalism.

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Comments on “Mashable Says You Shouldn't Own What You Buy Because You Might Hurt Yourself”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Won't someone think of the sliced fingers?!

I think it’s a fair concern that Right-to-Drive laws could lead to an explosion of car and truck dealerships. Consumers will wander on foot on on a bike, and drive out with a multi-ton machine of wheeled-death, thinking they can control it. And they will fail, miserably.

Plus, what if a consumer’s injured during a failed attempt to drive somewhere? They slam a finger in a door, or drive incorrectly, so the vehicle runs into something (and maybe even explodes). It’s the consumer’s fault, obviously, but they could also try to sue Ford or Chrysler.

Tl:dr version: Just because you and your friend don’t think you can be trusted to do your own repairs doesn’t mean the poor public needs to be protected from being able to do so. They’re big boys and girls, they can deal with the results from a botched repair job if they’re willing to take that risk.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Won't someone think of the sliced fingers?!

Dude, did you know that gasoline is FLAMMABLE? That stuff could ignite at almost any time! And they let unqualified people just squirt it willy nilly into any old car! Have you ever seen anyone stop and read the ICSC for gas? Neither have I! In fact, one time, I saw a movie that had a scene with a bunch of guys spraying each other with gasoline and then one of them lights a cigarette and blows them all up! Proof that people don’t know what they are doing!

Right-to-Refuel, what a joke. Leave refueling to the professionals, that’s what I say.

anti-antidirt (profile) says:


I have replaced numerous batteries and screens on phones in the past, and I can say that none of those exploded or caught fire. I also never cut my finger.

Look back ten years ago at phone insurance. It was a scam and still is. You pay every month and then a flat fee if you make a claim. Anyone with phone insurance now is getting taken because with a basic Internet search and a few bucks, almost any phone can be repaired.

Last year, I actually got the opportunity to work on a friend’s farm. I had the chance of combining corn and soybeans. When that combine has a problem, you call John Deere and it’s an instant $100 before any work is even done. Gee, I wonder why these companies are fighting so hard.

We’re making people more incompetent by restricting what people are allowed to do and making it sound dangerous. What year is this?

Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Ridiculous

I have replaced more iPhone screens than some iPhone store techs (I am at 75 screens and 10 batteries) and have yet to have an issue. I have also seen a certified tech wire a phone incorrectly when putting it back together and hand it back to the customer then charge the customer to fix it again. Just because you have a piece of paper saying you can fix something doesn’t mean you can.

I do have to admit though, I did cut my finger open while repairing one iPhone. There was a nail sticking out of the top of the table just enough…

Anon says:

The problem is the opposite

The article’s anecdote illustrates the opposite point – by keeping repair information closed, by not making repair details and documentation available, the manufacturer creates the risk that third parties will do incomplete or even dangerous repairs.

Presumably, widely available and informed (and inexpensive)repair shops will be a positive influence on sales. Anyone who has owned a car (or whose parent ahs)knows that if the non-dealer repair place screws up (and they can) it’s not the dealer’s fault nor the manufacturer’s. But many repairs can be done simply and cheaply.

Also, who do the manufacturers think they’re kidding? By keeping information proprietary, all they do is create anther secondary industry, the one that does tear-down and analysis. It’s not like there are proprietary secrets – the internet will allow EVERYONE to share; and as soon as an item is for sale, someone will tear it down – including competitors.

Retsibsi (profile) says:

What utter drivel. I purchased a second hand car a couple of years ago. For the first year I had nothing but problems with it and, sure enough, the car dealership failed to fix it. I finally got it fixed at another garage who quickly found the fault (which the dealership failed to locate, despite repeated claims from them that “this time we’ve definitely found it”), fixed it AND fixed the wireless keyfob that had mysteriously stopped working after the dealer’s second attempt at repairs (“it was like that when you gave us it”) for a fraction of what I’d paid the dealer. Turns out that particular dealership had a truly appalling reputation for botched repairs, but what did they care? They had a captive market so why bother to improve?

Jason says:

Another facet not necessarily noted is that no one is suggesting that there can’t continue to be "authorized" repair vendors. There will always be people who choose to take their car back to the dealer (or to call a plumber) rather than try fixing something themselves, and that’s totally fine too.

Honestly even the "fixing something themselves" part is being stretched a bit I think. I’m reasonably mechanically inclined but that doesn’t automatically mean I’d attempt any given repair myself. There are plenty of reasons a person would choose to have someone else do the work, skill being just one of them. But it’d be nice to have some modicum of choice in the matter.

Anonymous Coward says:

He's absolutely right!

We cannot allow these garage tinkerers to use things like soldering irons and integrated circuits. Why, I remember this one punk kid, his name was Steve Woz-something. He was always in his garage, soldering away, making ILLEGAL buzzboxes to STEAL phone service! The criminal. I told him he’d never amount to nothing, but he just started muttering something about computers and fruit. (Pear, Pineapple, I forget.)

John85851 (profile) says:

Let's go in the other direction

Let’s go in the other direction and say people shouldn’t do anything on their own just in case they might get hurt.
I still remember a scene from “The Simpsons” where they go a franchise-business expo and a company is promoting a business where people straighten pictures for other people. That’s right- some people might get hurt trying to level their own pictures, so it makes sense to hire a professional to do it.

michael (profile) says:

Re: Sick Burn

To whom do I take those phones for repair?

Whomever you like; it’s your phone.

But if you want your money back for a defective product, you’d be smart to return it to the manufacturer.

(But if you’re trying to make an analogy, you’re failing. We’re not talking about defects and reimbursements; we’re talking about getting a broken product — that once worked properly — fixed.)

lars626 (profile) says:

Look in the mirror

Ulanoff should look in a mirror. That is where he will find the person that should not be trusted to repair his own devices. He is trying to burden the rest of use with his own inadequacies. He should stop trying to protect all the special snowflakes from their own stupidity.

If Apple wants to void my warranty if I do my own repair I’m OK with that. If they charge me extra after I mess it up that’s reasonable.

If I buy it, I own it. I will what I want with it.

horkus (profile) says:

I think it’s a fair concern that Right-to-Repair laws could lead to an explosion of Radio Shack-like iPhone and Samsung electronics parts shops. Consumers will wander in with broken iPhone and Samsung Galaxy screens, and walk out with all the parts and tools they need to repair them. And they will fail, miserably.

But… that would be GREAT!

Or is the failing part supposed to make me afraid of trying?

Alasdair Fox (profile) says:

One size doesn't fit all

I think it’s a fair concern that Right-to-Repair laws could lead to an explosion of Radio Shack-like iPhone and Samsung electronics parts shops. Consumers will wander in with broken iPhone and Samsung Galaxy screens, and walk out with all the parts and tools they need to repair them. And some of them will fail, miserably.

Others will succeed, and those who fail will still be able to take them elsewhere for repair, as is their choice.

Rekrul says:

A few years ago, a friend of mine had an old Dell laptop with a couple of broken keys. A local computer shop wanted in excess of $100 to replace it. I found a copy of the service manual online and ordered a new keyboard off eBay for less than $20, then put it in for her. I kind of screwed up in that I got an international keyboard rather than a U.S. one. The keyboard itself worked fine, but the little nub/pointing device didn’t work and a couple of the keycaps were different (I just swapped them with the ones from the old one). She was happy to have a fully working keyboard that didn’t cost her a small fortune.

A few months ago, my computer refused to boot. It would just beep when I turned it on. A local computer place took a quick look at it, and said it was probably the motherboard. To actually diagnose the problem would cost me $50 and then if I wanted it fixed, I’d be charged an hourly rate, plus the cost of the parts. I ordered a new motherboard off eBay (he had tested the power supply and said it was good), and in preparation for swapping, I took out all the components, giving them a good cleaning in the process (I normally clean it every few months, but I’d never taken the CPU heatsink off before). I figured I had nothing to lose, so I put it all together and the system booted. It’s been working fine ever since, with the exception of one brief relapse that was solved by just replugging all the internal cables.

I once found a nice Acer computer in the trash. It was complete except for the hard drive. In the process of removing it, they had also removed the cage that it fastened into and left it loose. I couldn’t figure out how to re-attach it, so I looked online for a service manual, but didn’t find anything. I contacted Acer to ask for help and was told that I would need to take it to an authorized service center and have them do it for me. I ended up tossing it. I mean, the computer really wasn’t anything special, it was just an average P4 in a nice looking case and it probably would have just sat there collecting dust (I tend to be a hoarder), but it pissed me off that they expected me to lug it to a service place and potentially pay money just to re-attach a part!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Not really. People have this idea of electrons flowing through a wire. That’s not what happens. They just “bump” the next one in line. You have the same exact electrons in your device, as you did when you first bought it. Plus, it’s not even inside the wire. The interaction occurs on the surface.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not really. People have this idea of electrons flowing through a wire. That’s not what happens. They just "bump" the next one in line. You have the same exact electrons in your device, as you did when you first bought it.

Which is why it is impossible for a charge to accumulate between two conductive plates. Oh, wait…

Anonymous Coward says:

42 U.S. Code § 1982 – Property rights of citizens
All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Christopher Barry GREER…

the phrase “to hold” property under the statute can also mean “to use” property.

Judicial and statutory definitions of words and phrases
West Publishing Company – 1914 – ‎Law – Volume 3
Section on Life, Liberty and Property – page 136

The right to use and enjoy property…

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Et tu, Tim.

Should a specious argument be treated as a “You decide” issue or should it be denied equal status with a valid one? Presenting the dozy one on the same footing as the decent one is a waste of our time. Unfortunately this is a common propaganda tactic as factual arguments can then be dismissed as “only opinion.” Basically, Mike is calling Mashable out for posting fake news. Should a publication that wants to be taken seriously post fake news on the basis that the smart people ought to be able to weed the information garden themselves?

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

But we’re not talking about (for example) giving equal weight to climate change deniers as to climate scientists. This isn’t a debate where one side is factually correct and the other isn’t, it’s a debate between two opinions. In this case, I think it’s entirely appropriate to contrast TD’s opinion with Mashable’s and leave it to the reader to decide which argument is stronger.

Plus, don’t call editorials you disagree with "fake news"; that’s disingenuous. Especially if you do it within 90 minutes of linking to the Daily Mail.

Chris Bingham (profile) says:

who pays?

As we saw with Correct the Record, there is money floating around for theses kind of articles, paid by the people running the legal campaigns for or against (is in this case) the laws in question.

Who is paying Ulanoff? Remember when George Will was exposed for someone paying him? He bulled it through by basically saying “How dare you ask me who pays?”

It’s hard to make a living in media these days. As always, follow the money.

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