The right to repair could change the way we look at all the products we break. Here’s what you need to know.
Josh Miller / CNET
Apple said it will soon leave you. Proponents are pushing for companies like Apple to ease restrictions on consumer repairing their own devices. In July, the Federal Trade Commission agreed on new rules preventing companies from preventing customers from repairing their own products or from third-party repairs. and a pressured tech companies to rethink their repair policies.
Biden’s Executive Order came after years of debate from proponents calling for the “right to repair,” an initiative that in theory would compel businesses from phone makers, car and washing machine makers to manufacturers ofand medical devices to offer the diagnostic tools and documentation they use to fix products when they break. This would allow ordinary people to either repair the product themselves or go to a third-party repair facility rather than relying on “official” authorized repair centers, which are often an expensive option.
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Below are some frequently asked questions about the concept of the Right to Repair, what it means to you, and what the government is doing to make the Right to Repair a reality. (This story has been updated with new information.)
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What is the right to repair?
What is Apple’s New Self-Service Repair Program?
offers repair instructions and enables you to order tools and parts as well as return used parts for recycling from 2022. At the beginning the program only covers iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 repairs, later the self-service repair help for Macs with M1 chips follows.
The program has some restrictions: For example, you cannot use third-party batteries or other parts without the warranty being voided.
What is the right to repair?
If the right to repair movement could be summed up in one sentence, US consumers have the right to repair their product without being forced to buy a new one or pay for the repair to be carried out by the manufacturer or a third party.
The movement has been around for a while and has won minor victories in states like Massachusetts, where voters passed a 2020 bill thatmanufacturers usually did not make it public.
The right to repair also includes preventive measures. Proponents of the movement want tech companies not only to allow home repairs, but also to design and build products that are easier to fix in the first place.
For example, Apple’s AirPod wireless earbuds are impressively small, which is part of their appeal, but repair website iFixIt says they almost are. This is a problem when you consider that the batteries will likely need to be replaced after a few years. But instead of being able to take them apart and replace the batteries, you will likely find yourself compelled to just buy another pair.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
What does the right to repair mean for you as a consumer?
Should the government enact state or federal law governing repairs, you may be able to repair it yourself without voiding your warranty.
If you’ve just got a cracked iPhone display and are trying to replace it yourself or have the work done by a local repair facility and that person or company is not an Apple Authorized Service Provider or the replacement screen is not an Apple Approved part, your iPhone might be no longer covered by the Apple warranty.
Right to repair laws would also likely encourage more competition for repair services, which could lower third-party repairers’ prices for everything from your phones to medical equipment to tractors.
What does repair law mean for the environment?
If consumers can repair their products and extend their lifespan, it should reduce the amount of waste and e-waste that ends up in our landfills.
Are tech companies for or against the right to repair?
The attitudes are mixed. Last year, Bloomberg published a story about the right to repair movement and the efforts companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have made to keep repair law laws from being enacted and enshrined in law.
The reasoning? Intellectual property and security. These companies argue that if they were forced to publish circuit diagrams and manuals, and sell official parts to everyone, their products would be in danger of being copied.
Companies also claim that an untrained person replacing a battery, for example, could put their personal safety at risk from accidental damage that could cause the batteries to spontaneously ignite.
At the same time, companies like Apple have slowly opened up. Critics say Apple is not doing enough, however.
Who supports the right to repair?
While companies are cautious about supporting this movement, a growing group of tech and social media influencers are starting to push for it.
Among them is Kyle Wiens, director of the online manual and parts supply site iFixit. He has also traveled to parliaments across the country to encourage them to think about it. He declined to publish the latest sales, but in 2016 he sold $ 21 million worth of toolkits and parts to help people replace broken screens, cameras, buttons, and batteries on their devices.
Another high profile figure in the community is Louis Rossman, a New York-based repair shop owner who uses YouTube to teach computer repairing skills to his 1.5 million+ subscribers. Over the years he has campaigned more for the right to repair, most recently through his advocacy group Fight to Repair and the Repair Preservation Group.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak also spoke out in a cameo video to Rossman in July for the right to repair.
“We wouldn’t have had an Apple if I hadn’t grown up in a very open technology world,” Wozniak said in his video. “It is time to do the right things … it is time to more fully recognize the right to repair.”
How does the government deal with the right to repair?
According to the Repair Association, a total of 32 states have been considering or are currently working on passing laws on the right to repair since 2014.
According to US Public Interest Research Groups, 27 states are currently considering a law on the right to repair in 2021 alone. Both the Repair Association and the US PIRG organizations work with lawmakers to develop and pass repair law laws.
The New York State Senate passed a law on repairs in June, but the Assembly has yet to pass it before it can go into effect.
At the federal level, Biden has just signed an executive order calling on the FTC, among other things, regarding “cell phones.” The ordinance also instructs the FTC to consider similar repair rules for farmers to make it easier to repair expensive equipment like tractors.
The FTC’s recent vote to “step up law enforcement” on repair restrictions is another positive sign that the government is taking steps to pressure businesses and deter companies from preventing consumers from using their own devices to repair.
What are other countries doing regarding the right to repair?
As of July 1st, some equipment manufacturers in the UK have been required to provide replacement parts to owners of their products.
The new law is not broad enough to include all electronic devices such as smartphones or computers. Instead, it’s limited to devices.
Equipment manufacturers have two years to provide parts, and those parts must remain available for several years after the company stops manufacturing a particular product. But the law does not cover all of the components that make up a product. Instead, the bill is limited to repairs that are “safe” and can be done at home. For example, the BBC reported that repairs to heating elements or an engine must be carried out by a “professional repairer”.
What’s next for the right to repair?
For now, we have to wait and see how the FTC begins to enforce its new policy statement. It is something that we are actively monitoring.
In addition to watching the FTC, we will continue to oversee the proposed right to repair laws that are going through various stages of the process at the state level across the country.