FTC Formally Embraces Right To Repair As Movement Goes Mainstream

from the you-should-own-the-things-you-buy dept

One of the bigger bright spots in the last few years of often thorny or downright ridiculous policy debates has been the continued ascension of the right to repair movement. Whether it’s Apple’s wasteful restrictions or bullying of independent repair shops, Sony and Microsoft’s efforts to monopolize game console repair, or John Deere’s efforts to drive up repair costs for tractor owners, “right to repair” as a movement was born out of a genuine and bipartisan public annoyance at repair monopolies, obnoxious DRM, and self-service restrictions related to tools, documentation, and parts.

And despite Apple and friends’ best attempt to smear the movement as some dangerous and diabolical cabal only of use to sexual predators, its popularity shows no signs of slowing down. There’s legislation pending on both the federal level and in two-dozen states. Prompted by an FTC report showing industry opposition to the movement is largely fluff and nonsense, the Biden administration recently issued an executive order urging the FTC to do more. And now the FTC, with a bipartisan vote of 5-0, has adopted a new policy paper (pdf) and says it will take tougher action against illegal repair restrictions:

“The Federal Trade Commission today unanimously voted to ramp up law enforcement against repair restrictions that prevent small businesses, workers, consumers, and even government entities from fixing their own products. The policy statement adopted today is aimed at manufacturers? practices that make it extremely difficult for purchasers to repair their products or shop around for other service providers to do it for them. By enforcing against restrictions that violate antitrust or consumer protection laws, the Commission is taking important steps to restore the right to repair.”

The problem, of course, is the same problem facing the FTC on numerous fronts, from privacy to safety in bleach labeling. Namely that the agency’s authority is generally restricted under the FTC act to tackling corporate practices that are clearly “unfair and deceptive.” The agency also continually suffers from budget and staffing shortcomings (by well-lobbied Congressional design), so tackling the full scope of a problem like this often isn’t logistically or financially possible.

Still, the FTC argued that there’s a lot more it can do to lend markets and consumers a hand on the right to repair front, whether that’s doing a better job enforcing existing warranty laws, engaging in better coordination with state and local policymakers, or doing a better job holding companies that attempt to monopolize repair accountable under antitrust law:

“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunities for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs and undermine resiliency,? FTC Chairperson Lina Khan said during the meeting. ?The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions. And today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”

Ideally you’d still want a comprehensive right to repair law to shore up shortcomings in FTC authority. Much like privacy laws, that’s generally opposed by a broad coalition of cross-industry lobbyists who’d very much like to keep nickel and diming customers on a whole range of fronts, be it the phone industry or medical device manufacturing. But the more companies like Apple, John Deere, or the auto industry try to fight against reform using stupid, fear-mongering arguments, the more attention these shitty practices receive, the more annoyed the public gets, and the more bipartisan support develops.

That’s a major reason why right to repair went from a niche concern just a few years ago, to seeing consistent coverage via the likes of CBS News. That’s a positive development any way you slice it, and a nice contrast to many of the thornier and seemingly insurmountable tech policy debates that tend to consume DC, get mired in debate, and seemingly go nowhere.

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Companies: apple, john deere

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Comments on “FTC Formally Embraces Right To Repair As Movement Goes Mainstream”

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12 Comments
This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

This dangerous situation will only end in tears.

Compromised John Deere equipment will be commandeered by enemy agents via knockoff repair products. The food supply will be compromised. Millions could die of starvation.

Cell phones will all be rooted by foreign powers. Even head of states will not be immune. All your Contacts R belong to me.

Only the goodwill of a honest lobbyist can save us now.

Anonymous Coward says:

The wet dream of all these corporations is controlling parts, labor, and prices for repairs. It’s been going on a long time. This is not the first time laws have been made to right the control over such, unlikely to be the last time either.

During the 80s it was computer read out codes. The automakers locked up the codes, claiming them to be trade secrets. Nearly put the shade tree mechanics out of business. It took congress stepping in that time too.

Give it time and they’ll be another such when they figure a way to skirt the laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

Will this bring back armed robbery as a career option?

We’re all walking around with portable computers worth $$$..$$$$ in our pockets. One benefit (the only one I’m aware of) of the serial number locking etc on phone components is that it kills the stolen phone market. Y’all prepared to just wave that goodbye?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Will this bring back armed robbery as a career option?

The serial number locking isn’t done on the hardware sectet level, it is done on the network level as a shared "lost or stolen phone list" of IMEInfrom a manufacturer. Reporting "phone #1234 from Samsung was reported stolen – lock it out until we get another one reporting its recovery or discovery."

A cellphone the network refuses to connect to is dramatically reduced in value.

Anonymous Coward says:

about damn time too! when are people going to wake up to what’s going on, not just in the USA, although it’s the place of some many things starting and the place where so many things spread from, that the various mega companies and super bosses are doing whatever it takes to control everything on the Planet. what is worse is that they are doing whatever is necessary to remove freedom and privacy from ordinary people everywhere and that governments, courts and security services are doing whatever they can to help these things happen! the people are being more and more enslaved and the elite few are the enslavers! nothing is more important now than putting the people under the cosh, making sure the elite control everything and all rights are removed from us while these elite are ‘beyond the law! all the decades and centuries people fought against oppression, fought to have rights, fought to have freedom and it’s being removed, not just erroded! once gone, think of the time it’ll take to retrieve it, if it’s at all possible, when there are so many more ways of restricting us and, more importantly, more and more ways of keeping track of us with no way of tracking the trackers! i personally think we’re fucked, good and proper, with no chance of coming back!! Adolf would have looked on in wonder when no one is even trying to stop what’s going on because 99% of those that are helping bring about this change are in positions of importance that we cant fight against!

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