If Betteridge’s Law of Headlines means anything, then, no, you don’t have a right to repair today’s modern technology gadgets. But you do have certain rights anyway, so what’s the silly argument about having a legalized right to do what you can already do?
As usual, it’s more complicated than that. There are movements around the country to give gadget owners the same rights that car and truck owners– among others– have had since the last century. It boils down to the opportunity and the means to repair whatever we bought. Ourselves. Do you want to repair your iPhone? Do you want the right to repair an iPhone? The answers likely are much different.
Broke? Fix It
The ‘Right to Repair‘ is a name used for several proposed bills in the U.S. Congress and a few states which, in broad terms, would give customers and repair shops options to repair cars, machines, and technology gadgets that they do not have now.
While I can understand why car and truck owners would want access to repair information, tools, and parts so they can repair their own vehicles, does it make sense for an iPhone owner to want the same right for a device that just is not easily repaired beyond the screen or battery? Who is behind such measures?
For one, iFixIt, a company that makes money by providing tools and manuals that help owners and repair shops fix devices, so they have a vested interest in pushing manufacturers and legislators to provide access to what they need to run their business.
As noted above, this gets complicated. iFixIt also promotes the right to fix or right to repair whatever we buy. Somehow freedom is equated to the right to repair. Supposedly the right to repair creates jobs and helps to build a sustainable planet. These are all noble causes but how does that impact my iPhone or Mac for which I have no desire to repair, ever?
Without getting into the problems with technology as waste material, or viewing recycling as actual destruction of goods which might be repairable, or the obvious notion that manufacturing and mining are toxic (Humans are the cause, so are we toxic? Probably), where do we draw the line with a ‘right to repair?‘
Apple has fought against ‘right to repair’ in the past and is doing so again in a number of states but the nature of business, self interests, politics and lobbying being what it is, this isn’t an issue that will go away soon. Again, where do we draw the line?
Companies that once repaired personal computers and mobile devices have gone out of business. Why? Supply and demand. In most cases, our smartphones and tablets and other technology gadgets are more expensive to repair than to replace. Is that by design? Yes. If every iPhone and iPad and Mac and Watch were designed and built in such a way that users or repair shops could easily fix what’s broken isn’t it obvious to sane people that our devices would be more expensive; not to mention the added detraction of thicker, uglier, heavier, and more prone to additional damage and breakage as users attempted to fix what they were unable or unqualified to repair?
This right to repair notion is a can of worms. Yes, it has merits, but it is an idea loaded with compromises and implementation problems not easily managed by legislation. I do not want a politician dictating to Apple that my iPhone must have user accessible screws so owners can swap out screen, battery, circuit board, and other components, just so an online fixit website can get customers, or a guy in a garage can grow a local repair business.
We live in the 21st century. Not everything can be repaired ourselves, nor should we be allowed to. For most of us, we don’t grow and harvest our own food anymore. We don’t build our own houses, either. The tools and option might be available, but there are specific laws which govern how, when, and where we engage in such 19th century acts.
The ability to repair an iPhone or Watch is best left to those who manufacture the devices, not to some website that sells repair manuals and tools, or repair shops which can compromise device security.
The right to repair is a different issue that may benefit a very small percentage of the customer base (especially those in the repair business) and politicians would do well to tread carefully and give due consideration to the problems inappropriate legislation can cause, otherwise, we may have an issue not unlike demands for back door access to user encryption on modern devices.
A can of worms, indeed.