Image Source: Bru-nO / pixabay
A few years back, frustration at John Deere's draconian tractor DRM resulted in a grassroots tech movement. John Deere's decision to implement a lockdown on "unauthorized repairs" turned countless ordinary citizens into technology policy activists, after DRM and the company's EULA prohibited the lion-share of repair or modification of tractors customers thought they owned. These restrictions only worked to drive up costs for owners, who faced either paying significantly more money for "authorized" repair, or toying around with pirated firmware just to ensure the products they owned actually worked.
The John Deere fiasco resulted in the push for a new "right to repair" law in Nebraska. This push then quickly spread to multiple other states, driven in part by consumer repair monopolization efforts by other companies including Apple, Sony and Microsoft. Lobbyists for these companies quickly got to work trying to claim that by allowing consumers to repair products they own (or take them to third-party repair shops) they were endangering public safety. Apple went so far as to argue that if Nebraska passed such a law, it would become a dangerous "mecca for hackers" and other rabble rousers.
In the wake of Apple's recent iPhone battery PR kerfuffle (in which it claimed it throttled the performance of older iPhones to protect device integrity from dwindling battery performance), longer than normal repair waits have resulted in renewed interest in such laws. A new bill that would make it easier for consumers to repair their own electronics or utilize third-party repair shops is quickly winding its way through the Washington state legislature. That bill would not only protect the consumers' right to repair, but prevent the use of batteries that are difficult or impossible to replace:
"Starting in 2019, the bill would ban the sale of electronics that are designed “in such a way as to prevent reasonable diagnostic or repair functions by an independent repair provider. Preventing reasonable diagnostic or repair functions includes permanently affixing a battery in a manner that makes it difficult or impossible to remove."
Washington State Representative Jeff Morris says the bill was born directly from frustration by consumers and third-party repair shops in the wake of Apple's PR face-plant late last year:
"Morris told me this provision in the bill came out of a conversation with an independent repair shop owner in his district, who noted that many electronics now use glued-down batteries, which makes them difficult to repair and much harder to recycle, because batteries are flammable when shredded. There is currently no easy way for recyclers to remove the batteries from MacBook Pros at scale, for instance.
“With Apple phones in particular, they glue the battery in the case, so for me, that sounds like a purposeful attempt to make it so you couldn’t repair the phone,” Morris said. “It helps accelerate the path of those devices to the waste stream. So we’re trying to keep the philosophy our state is behind, which is recycle, repair, reuse."
Needless to say, Apple is furiously lobbying to kill Washington State's new law. As are fourteen other lobbying organizations representing hardware companies. Verizon's also lobbying against the bill (via the CTIA and the Telecommunications Industry Association), obviously concerned such a law would hurt the company's phone repair and insurance business it runs with Asurian. Unfortunately for Verizon and Apple, with 12 states introducing such bills last year and 17 such laws already proposed so far this year, this isn't an issue that's going away anytime soon.
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