[T]he prospect of a Cupertino-based megacorporation losing business to local repair shops isn’t a very sympathetic argument at the Nebraska statehouse. And so Apple has tried a slew of other tactics, according to state Sen. Lydia Brasch, who was recently visited by Steve Kester, an Apple state government affairs specialist.
“Apple said we would be the only state that would pass this, and that we would become the mecca for bad actors,” Brasch, who is sponsoring the bill, told me in a phone call. “They said that doing this would make it very easy for hackers to relocate to Nebraska.”
Apple probably expected its heavy-handed (and stupid — more on that in a bit) “suggestion” to be taken more seriously by podunk legislators in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately for Apple, Brasch isn’t just a legislator in a state mainly known for corn and football-as-religion.
Brasch is not only an Apple customer, but she’s a farmer who has had to deal with plenty of repair-blocking BS from companies like John Deere. She also has a background in computer science and an apparent tendency to not let corporate lawyers talk down to her.
Not only did Apple pick the wrong legislator to threaten, its threat is incoherent. I’ve spent most of the last 15 years in the Midwest and, trust me, it would take far more than a right-to-repair bill’s passage to make Nebraska a mecca of anything. (Beyond college football, he said to head off the Cornhusker faithful most likely already demanding a retraction…)
Then there’s the thing about “hackers.” There’s more than one type of hacker, but Apple dropped it as a pejorative term in hopes of conjuring images of hoodied figures sitting in dark rooms with the local SWAT team on speed dial and deploying some sort of encryption… you know, the evil kind.
All sorts of nonsensical arguments are already being raised in response to a handful of right-to-repair bills around the nation. The corporate version of “you’ll shoot your eye out” has been deployed to portray DIY repair jobs as hospitalizations waiting to happen.
The idea that it’s “unsafe” to repair your own devices is one that manufacturers have been promoting for years. Last year, industry lobbyists told lawmakers in Minnesota that broken glass could cut the fingers of consumers who try to repair their screens, according to Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org. Byrne said she will also testify at the Nebraska hearing and “plans to bring band aids.”
Apple’s take is this: the “hacker mecca” thing plus a very short parade of not-all-that-horribles.
Brasch said the representatives made two other main arguments: They said repair could cause lithium batteries to catch fire, and said that there are already enough authorized places to get iPhones repaired, such as the Apple store.
Define “enough.” As Brasch points out, getting her devices repaired “conveniently” involves setting up an appointment at the nearest Apple store, which is 80 miles from where she lives. Apple certainly doesn’t mind taking money from rurally-located customers when selling devices. But it’s not nearly as willing to make repairing their purchased products actually convenient.
And it’s not just Apple. Other phone manufacturers have spoken to Brasch in an attempt to get her to drop the legislation, or at least rewrite it in their favor.
“They said just take out the ‘phone’ part of the bill and we’ll go away,” Brasch said. “That’s tempting, but we need to repair consumer technology too.”
Brasch’s bill sprung out of her frustration with repairing her farm’s equipment, which has been made increasingly difficult by John Deere’s refusal to allow anyone other than repair shops it makes to profit from touching its products. Phone manufacturers have the same attitude. They express faux concern about consumer safety while preventing consumers from having any control over how their purchased devices are repaired. The concern most of these companies have for their consumers only extends as far as their ability to purchase add-ons, new products, and inconvenient repairs at non-competitive prices. The battle is over bottom lines, not consumer safety, no matter how it’s spun and no matter how many hacker-based horror stories are spun.