September 19, 2019

Who Owns Your Smartphone?

“It happens to the best of us: You’re walking down the street and idly pull out your phone, only to helplessly watch it slip from your fingers and land on the sidewalk with a sickening crack. The screen is busted. What is the next step? Given how expensive smartphones are these days, it’s likely you’ll take yours somewhere to get it fixed, rather than replace it entirely.

But what should be a logical and easy thing is in fact quite complicated. Many modern digital devices are difficult to repair — and this is by design. What’s more, companies like Apple will often void consumer warranties if their devices are fixed at a local mom and pop shop rather than by their own company’s professionals. This annoying reality has given rise to the idea of a “right to repair”: a movement designed to give consumers the ability to both fix and fiddle with their devices. At its core, the right to repair movement has emerged because the digital era has fundamentally challenged what it means to own something.

During a recent FTC panel called “Nixing the Fix,” advocates argued that modern tech companies try to discourage customers from fixing their devices using deterrents like stickers that warn the device’s warranty will be void if the sticker removed. But they also open and repair devices using specialized tools that ordinary people or repair shops just don’t have access to. All of this makes it much more likely that users who can’t afford “standard” repairs will simply ditch older products for new ones. Inevitably, this has environmental consequences, and contributes to a culture of disposability and planned obsolescence.”

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