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By Zachary Chen, Nov. 2, 2021

If you purchase an item, do you really own it? When you purchase a phone or laptop, there is always an off chance that it breaks, or something could go wrong. What are your options? You could buy a whole new device, but most would look to simply repair it. What if I told you that the only option is to have the repair completed by the original manufacturer which is an expensive option for most due to the lack of competition from third-party repair shops.

Courtesy of Kilian Seiler

This was the issue I faced when I shattered the glass in the back of my iPhone XR. Without access to original equipment, manufacturer replacement parts and adequate tools to do the job myself, Apple quoted me nearly $400 for an out-of-warranty repair, forcing me to look elsewhere for a replacement.

After this experience, I am an avid proponent of the right to repair our devices. What if you couldn’t do the repairs yourself and/or send it to an independently owned repair shop?

One of the most troubling trends the technology industry faces are the increasing measures that manufacturers currently implement into their products to make it more difficult for consumers and independent shops to modify or repair the device on their own. As technology moves forward and these products become more advanced, a growing movement for the right to repair gained traction as consumers pursue a more cost effective way to keep their devices running.

Do we really own our devices if we are unable to make the repairs necessary to keep them functional?

The idea behind the right to repair is that consumers should have the option to repair it themselves or to take it to a technician of your choice. It works to provide consumers access to original equipment manufacturer components and resources in order to make repairs when necessary. While a topic of debate in the world of tech, this is a practice that is already widely adopted by the automotive industry where a combination of both law and industry practices allow consumers access to parts years after production of the car has ended.

While there are no laws limiting consumers on the ability to directly work on their gadgets, many companies deny consumers the information or items necessary to approach repairs in the first place.

Companies like Apple are notorious for this, often limiting accessibility through both software and hardware applications. The long list of measures range from putting software locks on the batteries of new iPhones, denying access to diagnostic tools, replacement parts and electrical schematics, to even implementing proprietary screws and other design techniques to ensure that only Apple or computer repair experts can take them apart.

Disappointingly enough, time after time again Apple continues to make it clear that it is continuously willing to make deliberate sacrifices to the consumer experience to pursue profit. This is not only a detriment to the buyer but is also a large contributor to e-waste in our environment.

Statistics from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency show that e-waste is growing at two to three times the rate of any source of waste. While a majority of the waste is exported to other locations, only about 15%-20% of that e-waste is recycled.

Apple is able to sell so many devices because its repair program pushes consumers toward throwing their old phones away. With a screen replacement costing nearly the same price as the phone it is easy to see why customers are constantly replacing phones.

Additionally, the repair program only covers screens and batteries, so customers with issues regarding things like the charge port or motherboard don’t even get the option from Apple to seek a repair. This is one of the reasons why the iPhone is notorious for being one of the biggest contributors to electronic waste. Right to repair will not only save money in the pockets of consumers but will also keep these phones in use and out of landfills.

Right to repair is not an issue that only pertains to Apple but expands to other industries as well.

Tesla has an infamous reputation for having extended wait times and difficulty finding parts. Tesla maintains a strict list on who they sell parts to and log the circumstances under why those parts are being purchased. They have also been known to blacklist salvaged cars from future Tesla updates and the supercharging network.

John Deere, a company known for agricultural machinery, locked farmers out of their tractors software when it would detect a malfunction, leading farmers to hack their own tractors in order for them to pursue repairs on their own.

Right to repair is a system that works in a ways to ensure that we are able to sustain the longevity of our products as they become more significant parts of our lives.

It’s not just about being able to work on and repair the things you own; it’s about giving the consumer the freedom to choose the route of repair they most desire.

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