How will consumers benefit from ‘Right to Repair’?


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INTERNATIONAL/ GOVERNANCE

Topic:

  • GS-2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

How will consumers benefit from ‘Right to Repair’?

Context: On July 21, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted unanimously to make a push for the right of consumers to repair their electronic devices. All five FTC Commissioners voted in favour of a policy that seeks to know whether companies that are making it tougher for people to repair are violating antitrust laws

This decision would help “root out unlawful repair restrictions” and move forward with “new vigour” against violators.

What happens in the era of mobile computing?

  • In the pre-smart phone era, certain issues in a mobile device could be repaired by the user themselves. 
  • It wasn’t the case any more now. For ex: To get an Apple product fixed, a buyer has to take it only to an authorised dealer as any warranty on the product would become null and void if they opened the back of the smartphone.
  • Even after taking the device to an authorised store, the cost of repair could be high. Also, lack of Apple support makes such external repairs risky.
  • Hardware is only one part of the problem. 
  • In 2018, an Australian court ordered Apple to pay a penalty of Australian $9 million ($6.6 million) after it told its customers it wouldn’t do free repairs for devices that stopped working due to a software glitch. 
  • Apple is a microcosm of the consumer tech industry itself. 
  • From home appliances to tractors, an increasing number of consumer products are run on software, and a technical glitch can only be fixed by an authorised technician. 
  • Tinkerers and large corporations are fighting to solve the issue of who owns the information needed to fix a device. 
  • Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the U.S. are taking refuge under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), 1998, where it is illegal to break a digital lock embedded in a product.

Why is the movement important?

  • A consortium of advocacy groups is trying to push repair-friendly laws in the U.S. and break the DMCA stronghold. 
  • The Repair Association’s premise is that consumers can maintain their products, provided tools and information on fixing is available to them. 
  • Since its founding in 2013, the group has put several ‘Right to Repair’ proposals in US state legislatures. The FTC vote is a major win for the group.
  • The proposed legislation requires consumer electronics-makers to provide tools and information necessary to repair electronic products. 
  • This could change how companies operate by making them provide information and parts to unofficial repair centres, and, in the process, reduce costs for the consumer.

What is the stand of the tech giants?

  • Tech giants have been lobbying against the legislation, citing security concerns. 
  • TechNet, a trade group representing large tech firms, said allowing unvetted parties to access sensitive information, tools and components would “jeopardise safety of consumers’ device and put consumers at risk of fraud”. 
  • But the FTC had earlier concluded that there was scant evidence to support the companies’ claim for restricting repair.

Connecting the dots:



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