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.

Filed Under: anti-competitive, freedom to tinker, ftc, void if removed, warranty
Companies: microsoft, nintendo, sony


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  1. 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).

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