Nintendo has them. iPhones have them, and they have special screws to thwart it to boot. In fact, probably every device you own has a sticker on it claiming that once the sticker is broken, any warranty you have on your device is null and void. If you’ve ever wondered why that’s legal, the Federal Trade Commission has an answer: It isn’t, and it’s going after companies that try to keep you from fixing your stuff.
At the center of this is the “right to repair.” You probably don’t realize this when you buy something, but legally speaking, in many senses you do not actually “own” the stuff you buy in the sense that you have total control of it. The iPhone is a great example; in order to get your iPhone fixed, and keep your warranty, you have to go through Apple, either by sending your phone away or going to an Apple Store’s “Genius Bar.” Think about this compared to other expensive stuff you own, like your car. Imagine having to return to the dealership whenever you needed an oil change or to fix the cupholder. That’s more or less what Apple, Nintendo, and a host of others expect you to do.
Needless to say, for companies, this gives them a big advantage. If you want to keep your warranty, you have to go through them. That means not only do they get to dictate how, and if, your stuff is fixed, they can also charge you whatever they want. You also can’t get a second opinion on what’s ailing your game console or phone, and you can’t shop around to compare prices. And in some cases, this is baked right into the company’s bones: Apple is famous for a “closed architecture” philosophy where it tightly controls hardware and software, a policy that’s gotten it in trouble with the government in the past.
This has led to a years-long campaign, spun off from one in Massachusetts to allow anybody to fix their own car, to give electronics owners and third-party shops the ability to fix game consoles, phones, and other electronics without voiding the warranty. And, according to Ars Technica, the right to repair side just scored a major victory against the electronics industry:
On Tuesday, the agency announced it had sent warning letters to six companies for violating a 1975 law governing manufacturer warranties.
“Provisions that tie warranty coverage to the use of particular products or services harm both consumers who pay more for them as well as the small businesses who offer competing products and services,” said Thomas B. Pahl, Acting Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a Tuesday statement.
The FTC is demanding that companies remove language from their websites and to stop voiding warranties over broken stickers within thirty days. It’s not clear yet if anybody will fight this in court, but it seems unlikely that every electronics and gaming company will let this slide without at least trying to bend a judge’s ear. But if this holds, it’ll mean cheaper and easier repairs for the rest of us.
(via Ars Technica)