FTC Calls Out Nintendo, Microsoft, And Sony For Their Illegal 'Warranty Void If Removed' Stickers

from the STICKER-ILLEGAL-IF-DEPLOYED dept

Early last month, the FTC took a small step towards enforcing a decades-old law. The 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act forbade manufacturers from placing repair restrictions on electronic devices costing over $5. This means the little stickers claiming "warranty void if removed" are not just bullshit. They're also illegal.

Forty years of "void if removed" stickers being plastered on tons of consumer electronics means the law has done little to prevent manufacturers from placing repair restrictions on consumers. The language is so ubiquitous consumers assume tinkering with their purchased products will instantly void warranties. Many also believe taking their electronics to anyone but the manufacturer (or manufacturer-approved repair shops) for service will similarly remove warranty protections.

The fact is that the burden rests on manufacturers to prove any tinkering or third-party repair voided the warranty's coverage. Of course, given the number of restrictions and exceptions contained in electronic device fine print, chances are doing anything to anything is probably gives manufacturers the "evidence" they need to duck out of warranty obligations.

The press release by the FTC did not name the six manufacturers targeted by these cease-and-desist letters. Motherboard has now unmasked these lawbreakers, thanks to an FOIA request. And they're pretty much exactly who you think they are.

Motherboard has obtained copies of the letters via a Freedom of Information Act request and has learned the names of the six companies that were warned. They are Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Hyundai, HTC, and computer hardware manufacturer ASUS.

The letters were sent by Lois Greisman, the FTC’s associate director of marketing practices, on April 9; the FTC has given each company 30 days to change its official warranty policies and says that it may take legal action against the companies.

Conspicuously missing from this list is Apple, which is perhaps the most overbearing in its insistence that anything not specifically performed by Apple techs voids warranties. Apple has taken steps over the years to prevent owners from attempting their own repairs or seeking assistance from third party repair services. It has aggressively fought "right to repair" legislation and sued people for offering non-Apple approved modifications.

Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are the most obvious violators in this list. Every gaming console since the inception of gaming consoles has featured "void if removed" stickers. And every gaming console was put on the market several years after the law was passed.

As Motherboard's Matthew Gault points out, the letters [PDF] are mostly boilerplate. The only differences are callouts of manufacturer-specific language that violates the 1975 law. But they do show the FTC may finally -- years after the fact -- do something about bogus warranty restrictions.

This letter places you on notice that violations of the Warranty and FTC Acts may result in legal action. FTC investigators have copied and preserved the online pages in question, and we plan to review your company's written warranty and promotional materials after 30 days. You should review the Warranty and FTC Act and if necessary, revise your practices to comply with the Acts' requirements. By sending this letter, we do not waive the FTC's right to take law enforcement action and seek appropriate injunctive and monetary remedies against [manufacturer name] based on past or future violations.

Maybe these stickers will finally disappear, if nothing else. The law has only been used to punish a manufacturer once in its 40-year existence. Perhaps another FTC announcement -- hopefully containing some sort of enforcement action -- will come our way later this month after the agency completes its 30-day review.


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 1:20pm

    Enforcement

    But the FTS is going to step up and take over all internet related enforcement - I'm sure those stickers will be going away any moment now. Yup.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 1:44pm

    Maybe, sometime soon, possibly, if we feel like it

    What the hell is going on at the FTC? They finally woke up after a 40 year nap? How long a nap will they take before doing something about Telco's and ISP's tacking on charges after quoting a lower price, or for offering benefits like unlimited, that isn't unlimited or requires an unmentioned reduction in bitrate? What other obligations are they remiss in their lack of function?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2018 @ 1:53pm

      Re: Maybe, sometime soon, possibly, if we feel like it

      Once people start asking why no enforcement of the emergency only use for cell spoofing hardware has been even suggested, they will need to show something to justify themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 2:05pm

    The 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act forbade manufacturers from placing repair restrictions on electronic devices costing over $5.

    ...

    Conspicuously missing from this list is Apple, which is perhaps the most overbearing in its insistence that anything not specifically performed by Apple techs voids warranties. Apple has taken steps over the years to prevent owners from attempting their own repairs or seeking assistance from third party repair services. It has aggressively fought "right to repair" legislation and sued people for offering non-Apple approved modifications.

    Not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this law, as described, implies a "right to repair" and makes the passage of such laws unnecessary. Is there any reason why this is not the case?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2018 @ 3:08pm

      Re: Right to repair

      As stated in the article, the law requires manufacturers to demonstrate that the unauthorized repair voided the warranty. Under that scheme, the manufacturer is not obligated to make unauthorized repairs easy. Consider the weirdly nonstandard screws that were popular as a way to make it hard to open the device, or how the software for certain tractors only boots and runs properly on "approved" hardware.

      "Right to repair" laws typically go a step further and impose:

      • A duty to make repair-related materials available under reasonable terms. For example, if a company-created manual is reasonably necessary for would-be repair shops to understand the product, then the shop must be able to get the manual under fair terms. (Free is not required, but the manufacturer cannot gate it behind grossly excessive fees, onerous contract terms, etc.)
      • A duty not to include anti-repair anti-features, such as requiring "manufacturer approved" hardware (sold at grossly inflated rates, of course) rather than only requiring "acceptable hardware" (that is, anything that reasonably can do the job that the original hardware was specified to do, regardless of who made it).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      deadspatula (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 3:09pm

      Re:

      The right to repair laws actually are why we resolved many of these issues with automobiles. Electronics right to repair laws include requirements that the companies provide documentation (probably for a fee, much as car companies are required to license OBD II codes and information about how the car is put together), and some include requirements that the devices are actually/reasonably repairable.

      That said, we may have the reason the FTC woke up - the Right to Repair law debate filtered through and they went digging and realized we had a law/the law already prohibits the behavior.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 2:06pm

    According to Wikipedia: Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act: Definitions used, the act is not limited to electronic devices. It's about "consumer products", "generally any tangible personal property for sale."

    That sounds like it would include software.

    So if a DRM scheme bogs down a game with two million triggers in thirty minutes of gameplay, NOW are you legally entitled to fix it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2018 @ 6:53am

      Re:

      That sounds like it would include software.

      No, that's not tangible.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Hugo, 4 May 2018 @ 8:34am

        The warranty that this sticker provides is stuck at the time of purchase. Avoid removal, which warrants voiding of said warranty.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2018 @ 9:36am

        Re: Re:

        Also note that there's no "legal entitlement" here. The Act allows them to do basically anything to prevent you from repairing/changing the device, short of voiding your warranty.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2018 @ 2:11pm

    The stickers will remain, just a minor change in wording....

    Instead of "Warranty void if removed", it will be "warranty may be voided if removed", or wording to similar effect.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Madd the Sane (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 4:20pm

      Re: The stickers will remain, just a minor change in wording....

      Will those fit on a sticker, though?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2018 @ 4:42pm

        Re: Re: The stickers will remain, just a minor change in wording....

        Just a matter of wording...
        "warranty may be voided if removed"
        can be shortened to
        "May void warranty if removed"

        And I'm sure if you spend some time, you can find shorter ways to express the idea.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lukas Wo, 3 May 2018 @ 2:38pm

    Extreme Networks puts warranty void stickers on their expensive stuff...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Valkor, 4 May 2018 @ 6:11am

      Re:

      Lots of companies do, and they shouldn't.
      Ifixit is holding a scavenger hunt, and encouraging people to remove illegal stickers and send in pictures of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OldGeezer (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 3:37pm

    Surprised ANY agency under Trump would do this

    Since Trump has filled his swamp appointing only those hell bent on dropping all industry regulations and/or completely abolishing the agencies they head, this is unusual. I know it is a law & not a regulation, but this has not stopped Trump appointees before. I look for action to be taken very soon to either push a bill or limit the FTC's ability to enforce. If what little net neutrality limits left are turned over to the FTC, they will be buried & unable to take any action to enforce this. If they try, Trump will remove & replace anyone he needs to with lobbyists or industry insiders. This move is futile.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 4:13pm

      Re: Surprised ANY agency under Trump would do this

      The reason is simple: all but one of the companies are foreign, and the one American company is all but foreign these days, moving as much of the company as possible to other countries for tax purposes.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OldGeezer (profile), 3 May 2018 @ 5:49pm

        Re: Re: Surprised ANY agency under Trump would do this

        Makes sense. He has waged a trade war that will do us harm than good. He has already put out a list of electronics tariffs that he plans to impose. The problem with this is many of these have not been produced here for a long time. Nearly all American manufacturers, not just electronics, import nearly every component. Is there a single plant producing hard drives in the US? I'm not talking about US companies. I mean actual production lines. A while back a flood knocked out nearly the entire world's supply & prices doubled.

        Just like Trump & Ivanca's products are all made in "shithole countries. Ivanca is paying her Chinese workers $62 a week. If it is like most of China's virtual slave labor camps they are charged to stay in a crowded dorm room & meals.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2018 @ 6:38am

          Re: Re: Re: Surprised ANY agency under Trump would do this

          On that $62/wk pay rate -- what's the cost of living there? That seems to be the variable that everyone overlooks when they discuss pay in places afar...if your rent is $40/mo and you can get a 50lb bag of rice for $10, then you're being paid pretty well at $62/wk, no?

          (For an example closer to home: compare pay and cost of living in the Bay Area with that in say, Kansas City or even Chicago)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2018 @ 7:00am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Surprised ANY agency under Trump would do this

            if your rent is $40/mo and you can get a 50lb bag of rice for $10, then you're being paid pretty well at $62/wk, no?

            Not really, because you'd be trapped in one area. You'd never be able to get enough money to move or travel. Your example has at most $20/week of savings, assuming all utilities are included with rent, travel and medical costs are nil, and every meal is rice. You'd probably never be able to retire or have dependents either, or get an education.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2018 @ 7:56am

      Re: Surprised ANY agency under Trump would do this

      "I know it is a law & not a regulation,"

      Dear old geezer... law and regulation are one and the same in this context.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OldGeezer (profile), 5 May 2018 @ 4:42am

        Re: Re: Surprised ANY agency under Trump would do this

        Laws take a vote in congress that must be signed by the president. The first time he was in the oval office he was given a folder with repeals. In there was a repeal of a program to help low income people buying homes.There was a crowd laughing & cheering. "Yea, we just screwed over nearly a million families who won't be able to get loans or lose the house they bought". Since then he has repealed many regulations that were decided on by agencies like the EPA, FCC, FTC etc. with no bill from congress ever passed. Whatever would help his wealthy butt buddies save the expense of compliance. Just one signature & companies can go back to dumping toxins into rivers, landfills & the air. He repealed an Obama order that now allows 75,000 people who have documented mental illness to buy guns. Anything passed by both congressional branches & signed by any president needs the same to change it. We still have Obamacare, but Trump can repeal anything that was decided on a department level to try to cripple it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2018 @ 6:48am

    Whaaa?

    Apple wasn’t on this list? (I own an iPhone, so shut up)
    The question is why are laws that are good for the consumer ignored and it’s violators not punished. Reminds me of federal marijuana laws being violated on the state level. All so sloppy...legal enforcement cherrypicking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NaBUru38 (profile), 4 May 2018 @ 1:04pm

    Warranty voiding is not do important. The big issue is bricking.

    "Our system has detected that the product has been modified without our authorization. We have decided to disable it. Please refer to our nearest officisl repair hop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 May 2018 @ 9:34pm

    Conspiracy theory: maybe the FTC is working with the spooks (FBI, NSA, etc.), who want to modify hardware without being noticed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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