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Treatise: Can we fix it? The case for right to repair

Electronic devices are a mainstay in our modern culture and society. We rely on them to wash our clothes, create documents, and entertain us. Yet, just like everything, electronics can, and will, break. Unfortunately, repairing electronics yourself or at a local electronics shop is slowly becoming a pipe dream due to companies making device repairability increasingly difficult. Corporations like Tesla and John Deere oppose third-party repairs supposedly as a means to protect customers from data breaches or even subpar repairs that may damage their products.

This stringency takes away a customer’s right to repair—the ability to choose where and how they want to fix their broken devices. Other than limiting customer choice, companies and manufacturers have the final say on the types of services repair shops can provide and the prices they are charged for.

Apple is a prime example of a company that has been vocal in lobbying against third-party repairs for their devices and opposes the right to repair movement. While the company does provide an Independent Repair Provider Program that claims to certify independent repair shops and provide them first-hand components, product schematics, and training, the specifics of the program imply otherwise.

Maddie Stone from Vice’s Motherboard as well as YouTuber and repair shop owner Louis Rossmann unveiled the true nature of Apple’s program. Some notable details they provided include the company conducting spontaneous audits and inspections with the intention of searching for “unauthorized” components and compelling shops to stipulate customer information including names, addresses, and phone numbers among other things.

It is already bad enough that Apple opposes the right to repair, but to intentionally go out of their way to conduct these practices is a whole other can of worms. Given how Apple openly expresses how important data privacy is, the aforementioned actions clearly go against their claims as well as the people that support their business.

Rossman also indicates how these certified shops are legally obligated to only perform repair services to iPhone screens and batteries. This technicality virtually renders this program useless. Applying for the program essentially is a bad business decision as not only will Apple breach the privacy of shops and their customers, businesses can also lose money due to the limited amount of services they can offer.

While I have yet to experience the issue first-hand, a friend of mine named Marianne de Leon recently shared her experience with Apple’s repair services. A few weeks ago, she took her Airpods to the nearest shop with the intention to have them either checked or repaired. Unfortunately, the employees informed her that they would have to be diagnosed in Singapore for up to two months because the store was not equipped for such a task. Once they were returned, she was told that the broken component was only replaced with a working one, which should not have taken that long.

Moreover, not only are anti-right-to-repair practices harmful to customers and repair shops, they also harm the environment. Nudging customers to dispose of their “unusable” devices only to purchase a new one drives unnecessary electronic waste. Allowing consumers to have the right to repair can solve this issue by presenting them the option of replacing defunct parts instead of disposing of the entire—and mostly functional—device.

This now begs the question of whether or not we can fix this. The answer is yes. Many people, including Rossmann, have been fighting and advocating for the right to repair legislation in different states and countries.

In the United States (US), most of the 50 states have proposed legislation on the right to repair, with Massachusetts solidifying it as a law that tackles vehicle repairs. US President Joe Biden also voiced his support for this movement, calling out cell phone and tractor manufacturers to do their part in providing freedom to consumers. The European Commission is also advocating for new right to repair rules to be implemented this year for phones and tablets to ensure their functionality for a longer period of time before disposal.

While there are no specific laws protecting electronic gadget users in the Philippines, we do have similar laws that protect consumer’s freedom like Republic Act No. 10642, also known as the Philippine Lemon Law, that targets the automotive industry.

The lack of right-to-repair policies pertaining to electronics is rather shocking and disheartening. Given how the Philippines is a developing country, a large portion of the population do not have the luxury of replacing a semi-broken phone or computer given that the warranty has expired.

At the end of the day, we are the rightful owners of the products we buy. Big-name corporations should not be allowed to dictate how we use our devices and bully us into feeding their ever-growing hunger for monetary gain.

While I agree that making a profit should be any business’ priority, customer freedom and satisfaction should be of equal importance. If companies are able to control what we own, then are they really ours?

By Tommy Vasquez

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