The Right to Repair – An Enigma in the Modern World

Written By - Aneesh Agarwal | Posted by - Mindcord

So, let me ask you a question. If you have bought a thing, do you completely own it? Can you use it in any way you want? Well, technically yes, you should be. But we know countless examples where that is not the case. For example, if you buy a drone, there are several restrictions to its use. You can’t fly it over certain areas, like airports, military sites etc. We also can’t fly it near residential areas and roads. But that's reasonable, we know it’s for safety and privacy reasons. So, as we can se there are several limits to the use of almost every other product. One of the limits that I would like to shine some light on is ‘repair’. Do we as consumers and users, have the right to repair the stuff that we have fully purchased?

On the surface this seems to be straightforward, yes, of course we should have the right to repair. However, when we take a deeper dive into the topic, we notice that this is becoming increasingly difficult and complex in the modern world.

Currently, there is no actual law in almost all regions of the world preventing us to repair our belongings. We do have the authority on paper, but the companies or manufacturers themselves are trying to stop us from going that far. Let me explain.

Now, let’s say you buy an iPhone. In a few months, it falls and the screen cracks. Now there can be two sets of views to what should happen beyond this point. The user side and the manufacturers side.

Let’s understand the user’s side. In theory you should just be able to replace the screen without a problem and keep using the device. So, in the user’s perspective, we ‘should’ be able to repair out device. There are several reasons why a user should have this right to repair. For example - It saves money, it would be way cheaper for the user if they could replace the screen on a fairly new device rather than buying another new device. It is also eco-friendly, throwing away a device generates a lot of e-waste, if the user can repair the device, then they may be able to user it a lot longer thus conserving the e-waste. I am sure you can think of a variety of reasons for repairing your device. So, to summarize, the more is the number of replaceable and repairable parts in a device, the better it is for the user.

Now, let’s look at the opposite side of this spectrum. The manufactures will want control over this process. Let’s take the example of Apple. Once they sell you the product, their best interest will be to retain as much control over the device as possible. For example, if they have control on the accessories side of the device, they will be able to gather more revenue from the sale of the same iPhone. They have a whole program for this called the MFI – made for iPhone program. Where they provide the users with all the required accessories for their device including covers, magsafe accessories, chargers, airtags etc. The same goes with the repair of the device.

Apple wouldn’t want to have any independent repair shops. This is for a variety of reasons, like, it would void the warranty of the device, they may use counterfeit parts, they may damage critical components of an expensive device. So, like Apple all manufacturers would want to control everything, but in the reality that would just entail a monopoly, its practically not possible.

So, Apple, particularly, gave the independent repair shops a choice to become an Apple certified shop, this required a certain amount of fee to be given and in return Apple would give the shops some training, documentation as well as top of the line genuine parts for repair. In this way Apple has established a sort of decentralized control over the repair side of the device. They can easily introduce various limits to the repair of the device. They can have audits and inspections as well as quality checks. They have limited the repair to the battery and the display of the iPhones only.

However, apart from the Apple authorized repair shops apple doesn’t have control over the other independent ones. To tackle this problem, the company makes a deal with the manufacturer of the components of the device to sell it only to that specific company, and due to the enormous order size of the company the manufacturer agrees to this. In this manner, even though we are completely allowed to repair our device, in reality we can’t repair anything apart from the parts permitted by the company (which are very few in most cases).

Now, we have discussed the example of Apple here for simplicity but almost all other tech companies have taken similar steps.

Another reason why companies do not want to offer the right to repair is the safety of the users. Let’s take the example of tesla. Now as we know, all cars of tesla are primarily software operated. So, in case a user tries to modify or repair the car, tesla can block them from using it. The users are physically locked outside the car, the charging stops etc. This is because the electric engines and batteries make the system too complex for ordinary users, unlike the regular gas cars. The users may hurt themselves while repairing or modifying.

Apart form this another reason the company can give is that the product has become just way to complex. As the tech advances the components of the device start getting more properly and efficiently integrated, not only in terms of software, but also physically. They are more compactly arranged, to make the design better. The components itself have become smaller, they gave thermal coating and insulations coverings to protect from heat etc. These complications have made repair too difficult, to such a point that it has become more easier to just but a new product.

The M1 is one of the most compact and well-integrated chipsets.

So, in this mess of numerous standpoints, let me tell you where I stand. The tech companies should not compromise on the design and efficiency of the device to provide repair. But the users should at least have the option to do it, they should have the access to genuine parts and documentation. The rest is upon us to take care of the complexity and safety while repairing. This is one spot where the control of the company can jeopardize the experience of the user. Of course, there are several other factors at play here like the monetary reasons and government interference etc. But that is beyond the scope of this article. Do share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.

~ Aneesh Agarwal

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