In July 2021, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling on the Federal Trade Commission to prevent companies from preventing customers from repairing their own products, including laptops, smartphones, cars, washing machines, and heavy manufacturing equipment.
The European Commission had proposed legislation on the ‘right to repair’ in 2020 for electronic gadgets with the aim of reducing electronic waste as part of the European Union’s action plan on the circular economy for carbon neutrality by 2050.
The decision was taken to restrict single-use products and counter early product obsolescence to improve durability.
What is the Right to Repair movement and why is it important?
Consumers often spend huge sums on home appliances and gadgets, and sometimes find them obsolete a few years after purchase.
For example, the battery of a smartphone is likely to degrade over time and slow down the performance of the device.
And, if the battery is not replaceable, the consumer is forced to throw the device away and spend thousands of rupees on a new phone.
Fragile and irreparable components also shorten the life of a product.
Manufacturers are also abandoning support for assistive devices and non-standard parts.
Most modern technologies are made up of irreparable and irreplaceable components, especially if they are powered by sophisticated computer chips.
As products become difficult to repair, activists and consumer organizations are championing the “Right to Repair” movement, which aims to enable consumers to repair their electronic products by themselves or by third-party technicians.
Where is the movement today?
In 2021, more than 32 states in the United States proposed legislation for the right to redress law, while only the state of Massachusetts passed legislation.
The Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Law passed in 2012 requires vehicle manufacturers to provide the necessary documentation to enable third-party technicians to repair their vehicles.
The UK Right to Repair Act came into effect on July 1 and requires manufacturers of household appliances to provide consumers with access to spare parts and make complicated parts available at professional repair shops.
How are tech companies reacting?
Tech giants including Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Tesla frown on the move, saying it threatens the protection of intellectual property and trade secrets.
Apple was fined $ 113 million last year for artificially slowing down all older iPhone models.
In 2017, Apple began offering battery discounts to affected users, which critics say could have been avoided if it allowed third-party battery replacement.
Microsoft and Google also opposed the legislation, saying it allows uncontrolled access to diagnostic information and sensitive software.
Tesla of tech mogul Elon Musk said such an act would weaken the cybersecurity of the system and make it vulnerable to attack.