Apple’s tools, glue and diagnostics in FTC’s sights

From “FTC to Ramp Up Law Enforcement Against Illegal Repair Restrictions” posted Wednesday on the Federal Trade Commission website:

The Federal Trade Commission today unanimously voted to ramp up law enforcement against repair restrictions that prevent small businesses, workers, consumers, and even government entities from fixing their own products. The policy statement adopted today is aimed at manufacturers’ practices that make it extremely difficult for purchasers to repair their products or shop around for other service providers to do it for them. By enforcing against restrictions that violate antitrust or consumer protection laws, the Commission is taking important steps to restore the right to repair.

In May, the FTC released a report to Congress that concluded that manufacturers use a variety of methods—such as using adhesives that make parts difficult to replace, limiting the availability of parts and tools, or making diagnostic software unavailable (emphasis mine)—that have made consumer products harder to fix and maintain. The policy statement notes that such restrictions on repairs of devices, equipment, and other products have increased the burden on consumers and businesses. In addition, manufacturers and sellers may be restricting competition for repairs in a number of ways that might violate the law.

“These types of restrictions can significantly raise costs for consumers, stifle innovation, close off business opportunity for independent repair shops, create unnecessary electronic waste, delay timely repairs, and undermine resiliency,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said during an open Commission meeting. “The FTC has a range of tools it can use to root out unlawful repair restrictions, and today’s policy statement would commit us to move forward on this issue with new vigor.”

In the policy statement, the Commission said it would target repair restrictions that violate antitrust laws enforced by the FTC or the FTC Act’s prohibitions on unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The Commission also urged the public to submit complaints of violations of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which prohibits, among other things, tying a consumer’s product warranty to the use of a specific service provider or product, unless the FTC has issued a waiver.

The Commission voted 5-0 to approve the policy statement during an open Commission meeting live streamed to its website. Chair Lina Khan issued a statement. Commissioner Rohit Chopra issued a separate statement.

My take: The guys at iFixit should be high five’n this.

11 Comments

  1. Gregg Thurman said:
    Non-starter. An interpretation of these “rules” could alter the way products are manufactured, raising the retail price the end product.

    2
    July 21, 2021
  2. Fred Stein said:
    The Essential Phone, from Android co-founder Andy Rubin, attempted to achieve Lina’s goal. They went out of business for predictable reasons:

    1) Making a modular smartphone, adds BOM cost, sacrifices performance, increases weight, reduces reliability and compromises security.

    2) SmartPhones, especially iPhones, finely optimize all the components, processor, memory, camera, cellular radios, software, firmware, etc. to each other. You can’t just upgrade to faster memory or a better camera and get the benefit.

    3) It’s impossible to manage Android release upgrades to unknowable IB configurations. That means no security patches and more.

    6
    July 21, 2021
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    I question if the “Right to Repair” remains an Apple issue. Apple has moved to certify Apple repair specialists. If Apple wanted to compete in this arena, they could do so aggressively by establishing in their stores, on-site, individual repair shops providing timely, warranty repair work with competitive pricing. Apple may no longer have an issue with non-Apple repair shops. Besides, faulty repairs by non Apple specialists lead to purchasing new equipment.

    6
    July 21, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      Right, I upvoted.

      I suspect Lina addresses a problem that has pretty much gone away, cracked screens.

      2
      July 21, 2021
  4. Michael Goldfeder said:
    Lina Khan is just what I expected. An idealist with no functional knowledge of manufacturing, seamlessness of use, or consumer preferences. She’s a social justice warrior seeking antitrust violations where none exist under the guise of: “stifling innovation.”

    In her perfect world she’d be filing antitrust violations against trees in the forest that throw too much shade on smaller vegetation.

    Another useless ivory tower dweller from academia telling everyone how to run their lives who hasn’t done anything of substance other than reading books and typing term papers.

    11
    July 21, 2021
    • Gregg Thurman said:
      Gave you a Star, while noting that she got the Amazon issue correct.

      3
      July 22, 2021
  5. Gregg Thurman said:
    I would think it would pay for firms that purchase used iPhones to become authorized repair facilities. Then iPhones with broken screens would have more value as a new iPhone “trade-in”.

    Older model iPhones return to service, increasing IB in the lower price echelon where new iPhones don’t do well at all, and thwart “share” gains among Android manufacturers.

    Then to some limited extent, buyers of these “authorized repair iPhones” become Apple Services users

    I believe Apple is positioning itself to negotiate “right to repair” terms (to its liking) with the regulatory bodies, and in doing so blunts any anti-trust prosecutions.

    Say NO until forced to say YES (on your terms).

    5
    July 21, 2021
    • Fred Stein said:
      Thanks for the perspective, especially the last in parenthesis.

      0
      July 21, 2021
    • Bart Yee said:
      @Gregg Many of the companies that offer buybacks of used iPhones indeed do their own repair (refurbishment) work, probably using further broken iPhones as parts donors. There is absolutely no incentive for them, IMO, to offer repairs when they can buy broken phones for cheap and sell repaired phones for more. Also, since they get parts donors for cheap also, they can break them down as bona fide used OEM parts donors and make out on selling parts to 3rd party repair businesses – win win for them. Such has been the model for automotive junk yards, er, recycling companies for decades.

      1
      July 21, 2021
      • Gregg Thurman said:
        I can’t agree more. But I’m thinking of the rarefied logic of a regulator who doesn’t think rationally. They want 3rd party repairs with genuine new parts coupled with factory diagnostic capability: in effect an OEM supported competitor to the OEM.

        The concept of an individual repairing their own Apple product is lubricous. No amount of regulation is going to suddenly make the consumer a competent surface mount repair tech, even if they had manuals and parts. Redesigning electronic products to be user repairable will increase the new cost of that item more than the cost of Apple Care.

        In my opinion “repairable” is a political buzzword with no meaning.

        2
        July 22, 2021
  6. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    From what I know about all the people I know and their supposed “want” to repair their devices, this “right to repair” is defending a pretty, pretty, pretty tiny number of users.

    Laws for the faint few.

    (shout out to Larry David)

    2
    July 22, 2021

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