Last week, we noted how Apple was one of several companies lobbying against a right to repair bill in Nebraska. The bill would make it easier for consumers to repair their own products and find replacement parts and tools, which is generally considered to be a good thing — especially if the only Apple store is eighty miles away from your current location. But Apple tried to argue that Nebraska’s bill would not only make the public less safe (self-immolation everywhere!), but it would also result in Nebraska becoming some kind of “mecca” for nefarious hoodie-wearing ne’er-do-well hackers.
Of course Apple, like most companies, just enjoys a repair-monopoly, which not only allows it to charge an arm and a leg for what very well may be superficial repairs, but helps prop up closed, proprietary ecosystems, hurting customers in a myriad of other ways as well.
It’s not just in Nebraska where this conversation is happening (the Nebraska bill just happens to be the furthest along legislatively). Similar bills are also winding their way through New York, Minnesota, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Illinois state legislatures. And in most of these states, the companies lobbying against these laws are using the same disingenuous arguments Apple has been embracing. Usually it’s the trifecta of false claims that the bills will make users less safe, pose a cybersecurity risk, and open the door to cybersecurity theft.
Game console makers Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, long at the forefront of opposing the user right to tinker, fired off a letter last week (pdf) under the banner of the Entertainment Software Association that once again trots out all three bogeymen in taking aim at Nebraska’s law:
“We are concerned that legislative Bill 67 would jeopardize consumer safety and security, is unnecessary and compromises intellectual property….Customer safety, security and privacy are fundamental goals in the design of our membership’s hardware, software and services…Our free market economy already provides a wide-range of consumer choice for repair with varying levels of quality, price and convenience without the mandates in this legislation.”
Note they cite a “free market economy” in the hopes you’ll ignore the fact that they’ve effectively monopolized repair to the detriment of price and convenience. Companies like Sony and Microsoft would certainly prefer that you pay them exorbitant fees to repair what’s often their own manufacturing errors that they charge upwards of $200 to fix, but could have been repaired for notably less. Both Sony and Microsoft have also long placed tamper-proof stickers on their game consoles claiming removal of the sticker violates the warranty, even though this technically violates the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Justification for repair bill opposition is so flimsy, none of the companies opposing right to repair legislation want to really talk about it:
“After referring me to several different press representatives, Microsoft declined to comment. Sony did not respond to a request for comment. Apple has ignored repeated requests for comment. The ESA declined to comment. In two years of covering this issue, no manufacturer has ever spoken to me about it either on or off the record.”
“We won’t make as much money if independent, local repair shops can help customers” isn’t a very compelling argument. But as usual, buying or hoodwinking a campaign-contribution-soaked Congress with a fleeting understanding of technology isn’t particularly hard:
“It’s very easy for the manufacturer to stand up there and say no we’re the only ones who know how to do it,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, told me. “Lawmakers get spun stories by lobbyists who say the sky is falling, and it’s very easy to kill legislation.”…”This is not a case of right vs. left or a fringe interest group pushing it,” Wiens added. “Everyone wants to be allowed to fix their stuff, and there’s only a few organizations that don’t want them to be able to. It’s very transparent why manufacturers are against this.”
In Nebraska, the right to repair bill was driven by John Deere’s “authorized” repair requirements, which forced many regional farmers to pay John Deere an arm and a leg for, again, what in many instances may be relatively inexpensive and simple repairs. It’s not only a monopoly over repair — it’s the cornerstone of an adversarial and utterly non-transparent relationship with the consumer. And the fact that the companies taking aim at these legislative proposals aren’t even willing to publicly talk about them speaks volumes in and of itself.