FTC Votes Unanimously in Favor of Right to Repair

Originally published at: FTC Votes Unanimously in Favor of Right to Repair - TidBITS

Responding to President Biden’s executive order, the Federal Trade Commission has voted 5-0 to go after companies, like Apple, that make repair difficult.


Yes! Love this ruling. It won’t stop Apple from soldering RAM and SSD to the motherboard but it will at least make Tim Cook get rid of that software that ties my iPhone battery to my phone and screws up my power management if anyone other than Apple installs a new battery.

With that software, Apple knows they didn’t change the battery and that act of using a third party voids the warranty.

Thank you President Biden. Just the start I hope of cracking down on the tech monopoly.

Apple’s Tim Cook doesn’t care about customer satisfaction. He just wants to avoid upsetting customers so much they make the switch to a non-Apple product. Retention without satisfaction.

Remember, the App Store was not the first company to sell software online via credit card. Remember Kagi? They only took 10%. App Store takes 30%.

Kagi was not a gatekeeper either. Apple is a gatekeeper and decides who gets on the App Store and who doesn’t using rules that are arbitrary.

Cook wants to build a fence around MacOS to match the fence around iOS. No more downloading software from anywhere except from Apple.

I am sure Apple will sue and drag this out in the courts.

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I wonder why you are using Apple gear.

The ultimate consequence of this “Right to Repair” thingy would be that we go back in time a century to electro-mechanical telephones, where you can repair absolutely every detail. Which BTW I liked very much. I still have some around although they have long since become incompatible with the evolving telephone network. Field telephones were the best, the ones with a generator inside them and you had to lay your own line. I also like carbon microphones. And coherers, but that’s another century back.

I want Apple to double down on security and tech advancement. I want them to make gear that lasts and they deliver most of the time. When the time comes that my iPhone has reached its final iOS version, I get a new one and the old one goes to some family member; until now those phones last for many additional years. They are all still working.

The only reason I can find why politicians would want to go this RtR-way is to keep spying on the general people possible by stalling tech innovation. It will buy them some more years of snooping.

I myself wouldn’t dream for a second of letting my current iPhone be taken apart by someone not fully authorised, equipped and backed up by Apple. It’s just too bloody dangerous to me, physically and privacy-wise.

Modern batteries are packing so much energy these days that they may explode violently when handled inappropriately. The idiot who took a bite out of a replacement battery a while back was very lucky to come away with his face.

I also want my data to stay just that, without all the usual suspects (gov, data brokers, criminals) having their way with it in order to cause me harm.

As I see it we have a choice between open and secure systems. Gov wants open systems so they can easily spy on the population (enemy of the state No 1) unhindered. I like Apple for trying to secure their system the best they can (beside ease of use), so I’ll continue buying Apple gear and (in the rare situations that arise) have it serviced by them only.

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I look forward to seeing this initiate change. There’s a perfectly sound technical reason to solder RAM. That will continue to be possible. But there is no sound technical reason to use pentalobe over hex/Torx or Phillips. Or refusing to provide documentation and/or parts to legitimate 3rd party repair facilities. If Apple retains the customer’s best interest in mind, they’ll suffer no harm from this. If OTOH they put corporate greed over customers’ interest, they deserve to be reprimanded. Either way, I’m sure this has the potential to stop some seriously shady behavior (John Deere et al.). Glad to see the Biden/Harris Admin step in here.

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“Right To Repair” is a big umbrella term that means different things to different people.

Some want to force manufacturers to design products so that they are especially easy to repair. Mandate user-replaceable batteries and RAM and storage, and similar things. This sounds good on paper, but is far easier said than done. There are often (but certainly not always) good technical reasons for these less-repairable design decisions.

Others (especially operators of independent repair shops) are less concerned with that and just want to be able to get schematics and parts so they can perform repairs without being forced to buy them on the black market. They don’t care if your Mac is glued shut - they know how to open it. They just want to be able to buy an ISL9240 power management chip so they don’t have to scavenge them from dead computers and shady web sites. (For those who don’t know, several years ago, Apple stopped using the easily sourced ISL6259 with the ISL9240 - a functionally equivalent chip that you can’t purchase because Apple has an exclusive deal with Intersil so nobody else can buy one).

I think the latter has a better chance of making its way into actual law, because it doesn’t force manufacturers to change any designs, it just prevents them from using sleazy business deals to lock out independent repair facilities.

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I have no problem with Apple requiring shops to take an online class or two or passing a test. I’m even OK with Apple selling them parts, repair manuals and schematics. They can even certify them as long as the door is open for all who want to enter and meet the requirements. It must be affordable for even a single person shop or an owner of a Apple product to acquire the materials.

But no more Tim Cook BS of tying the battery to a chip that only they can buy and then controlling and programming that chip to record battery changes.

I do not believe the politicians in favor of Right of Repair are in cahoots with law enforcement to enable spying or have other sinister motivation. Those old hand-me-down phones are obsoleted by Apple for many purposes but they still work as just a phone. Apple, for example, wants people to buy new hardware, so it often makes decisions accordingly. Companies also make money servicing their products so they often sabotage third party repair services and DIY consumers. Products that can be made to be repaired and aren’t designed to be prematurely disposed give more value and can preserve resources. All this is what Right of Repair is really about. Nothing more in my opinion.

Yet, Right of Repair does mean “different things to different people.” It will be extremely difficult to get it right - to have it make sense in the large majority of millions of cases. I think we are much better off trying to do it, to make it as sensible as possible.

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A quick search in Amazon turns up over 1,000 Pentalobe screwdrivers, screws and kits. The price ranges between Pentalobes and other types of screws and drivers seem to be about the same. Walmart, Lowe’s, iFixIt, Home Depot and many other retailers also sell Pentalobe stuff. There are plenty of manufacturers of Pentalobe stuff as well. And the prices seem comparable too. Samsung also also uses Pentalobe. Just because you only have Phillips or Torx in your toolbox doesn’t mean that Apple or Samsung should be forced to use them.

Regarding Apple and the best interests of their customers, Pentalobes are supposed to be more secure. Even if this is somewhat incorrect, the fact that Pentalobes are trickier and require a level of expertise to manage, throws a big monkey wrench into the machinations of many thieves. Making iOS devices harder for criminals and unqualified amateurs to manage is a plus. But having to deal every day with millions of iPhone owners who cracked the case, ruined the insides and were left with a dead phone even though they bought the approved Pentalobes on their mobile devices and carefully followed the directions, not to mention bad PR and lots of flack on social media, is not a good scenario. And the overwhelming majority of mobile device owners do not even want want to risk potentially ruining their phones.

If keeping iPhones, iPads and Watches, thin, trim, lightweight, water resistant, with superior device longevity, and way ahead of their competition, means they need to use screws and glue that achieve these goals, I think it’s OK.

With all the problems Apple was having with Intel from way back when, and from having a CEO from the supply side in command, I’ll bet that Apple foresaw chip supply shortages. And in addition to that, they would be wrangling along with car, farm, TS, home, commercial, and other hardware manufacturers for chips. Locking a good chip in makes sense.

Mixed feelings. Artificial constraints to self repair or repair by non-Apple companies shouldn’t exist. But I don’t want to sacrifice reliability or security in the name of RtR.

In the 60s and 70s cars were relatively easy to repair but were less reliable. My cars since the late 1990s, both of them, I would never try to repair but have been more reliable than anything I rode in growing up.

I am concerned how people making decisions about what violates RtR will make the decisions.

And if someone screws up their repairs we have to remember the case where someone broke their iMac Pro taking it apart and Apple refused to fix it for money because who knows how much damage was done to the iMac.

Apple requires significantly more than just an online class or two for a candidate to qualify to become an authorized repair person. I think that having more stringent requirements yields better technicians and and better outcomes and quicker repairs. There are different levels of qualification and specialty certification. And Apple requires repair techs to pass recertification tests every year, which is important as Apple devices and operating systems are regularly upgraded. These are the same requirements that techs at Apple Stores have to annually meet. And there are differing requirements for Mac as well as iOS, Watch and other device repair specialties.

And the independent repair shops have to live up to other requirements as well. They need to maintain records that verifies whether or not devices are covered under Apple Care and other financial records, that they are using Apple parts, and that their technicians have passed their annual tests. If they don’t have the trained expertise to fix every Apple product, they need to meet shipping requirements.

I also think it’s good that Apple requires the use of authorized parts, and that they do their best to guarantee that techs are certified in specialties.

Not really…they’ll more likely just make the hardware/software that ties the battery to the phone available to 3rd party repair places…for a price of course. The problem is that it won’t be something like $100…since Apple builds whatever hardware is needed and maintains the software it will be something north of $1000 at least…and that in and of itself will eliminate a lot of battery replacement places as by the time they buy that as well as the spare Apple batteries which will also become available they’ll eat up whatever profit margin they have from being cheaper than an Apple battery replacement. The glue and such that keeps the phone together will likewise be sold by Apple and likely warranty will be voided if non Apple part is used but that’s really not a big deal for batteries as by the time they need replacing it’s out of warranty anyway.

I can see both sides of this argument…3rd part repair places and users want to be able to replace battery or screen or home button…but fly by night operators and cheap/marginal replacement parts will make the user unhappy and are they going to blame Apple or the mall kiosk for the crappy battery replacement? A significant portion will blame Apple even though the crappy battery isn’t their fault.

Again…right on the money. Gov/LE/intelligence agencies hate privacy and encryption and from what I saw the other day…either one of the bills the idiots in Congress are considering or one of the EOs the White House is considering will mandate a government back door…which is essentially outlawing encryption not to mention being basically physically impossible without a complete redesign of the iPhone and other Apple gear.

We all know that the bad guys will find and exploit the back door if it exists…anybody with half a brain on either side of the aisle politically can see that.

And terrorists will just shift to offline encryption and then email the blob to the other bad guy…or they’ll use code words or the age old book encryption…unless you know the exact book and edition being used…and know the not in the email keys to tell which pages and lines to use…it’s pretty unbreakable in the short term for relatively short messages…and even then any halfway smart terrorist will still have code words or previously agreed on words that mean something else.

Breakable in the long run if they don’t change the page/line/whatever daily…not to mention things like PGP and public/private keys that are essentially uncrackable if built right.

Me…I want secure systems. And one of the things I have on my ‘blue lights behind me’ list is to disable the FaceID on the iPhone…there’s nothing illegal on it at all but as a retired military guy I have a great belief in the Constitution…and I won’t give them the OK to search my car or home absent a warrant…it’s principle.

The idea that authorized repair centers always do a better job is simply not true. It takes only a 5 minute search to find plenty of examples where car dealers and Apple service depots botched a repair job. They don’t always botch jobs, of course, but they aren’t perfect either. They aren’t any better than a good independent shop.

Yes, some shops will do a bad job, but so what? When you move to a new town, you don’t just take your car to the first shop on the block - you ask around and find out who the good ones are. The same applies for electronic repair. It’s not hard to do some searching to find out who is good and who is not (and what kinds of repairs they are best at).

And plenty of independent shops won’t have a problem with this. Again, because most simply want to be able to repair their customers’ devices, not pressure Apple into changing design decisions.

The companies say they’re doing this to prevent incompetent shops and counterfeit goods, but I don’t believe them. If that is the goal, all their heavy-handed rules are failing miserably. The honest shops and customers are suffering and the crooks are completely unaffected.

And when push comes to shove, why shouldn’t I be able to install an aftermarket screen or battery? As long as the shop doesn’t try to pass it off as genuine Apple, it shouldn’t matter. If a shop says they can install a genuine Apple screen for $250, a high quality aftermarket screen for $150 or an el-cheapo aftermarket screen for $75, that’s great. I can make up my own mind about how much quality I want to pay for because ultimately, I am the one who will be using it and I am the only one who has to be satisfied.


David beat me to it (Apple botches repair jobs too). Maybe Apple didn’t want to fix that iMac Pro because they know from ample experience the difficulty of recovering from that kind of mistake. I think Apple was probably wrong not to try to help (with conditions of course).

Apple techs only work on Apple products so that’s definitely more of an advantage than a disadvantage. But sometimes that narrowness is a disadvantage.

Even new technicians that pass certification are still trainees when they start. At a third-party shop you are more likely to know what person is doing the repair. In general, I bet many of us would be shocked if we were told every time a trainee did our repair job.

Paul writes about cars from the late 90’s being (probably) more difficult to repair but more reliable. In general, I agree, but my mileage varies. Beyond the 90’s I’ve been lucky enough to have had both a Subaru and a Cadillac develop internal head gasket failures (bye bye engine), each at 75,000 miles due to manufacturer defects.

The FTC discusses auto repair in its repair rights recommendation to congress although probably more for explanation than being a focus. Phones are a named focus, with auto repair being relevant to the discussion.

The engine destroying head gasket failures I encountered were entirely the fault of the manufacturers, yet the manufacturers never came clean as far as I know (with any of their thousands of ruined engines and often whole Cadillacs). A significant portion of those were out of warranty, like both of my cars. Not using the manufacturer brand coolant was the main propagated excuse. My cars are immaculately maintained and I do most of the non-major repairs and maintenance myself. The reasons for the failures are known because of third-party mechanics and ex–manufacturer mechanics. Even the manufacturer mechanics only know what they’re told and what they see. One Cadillac engine designer strongly defended his creation, largely ignoring the problems. The head gasket failures for the Subarus were due to faulty gasket material (incompatible with aluminum engines), and for the Cadillacs, the bolt design was flawed.

A consumer has no chance knowing (at the time it matters most) what plagues a product without the hard work of third-party repair people. Third-party repair drives product improvement and, at least marginally, more honest information.

When I bought the Subaru, I contacted Subaru Inc. because I was concerned about the fluid type requirements that were stated in the owner manual. Subaru Inc. backtracked on a few of these when asked because the person I talked to knew it was misinformation. Falsely requiring Subaru branded fluids were most of the offenses. Using the the correct type coolant was critical but Subaru wasn’t the only source of it. Obvious misinformation had been mixed in with important information. Subaru was looking out for Subaru. Cadillac, completely the same.

I’ve had countless experiences with bad car dealers (ie, manufacturers) and I will outline one case due to its relevance to the discussion. I had a front-axle replaced by a dealer, but I opted for their aftermarket axle because they said it was less money but good. I drove off the lot with the new axle installed at closing time, and after several blocks, I discovered the car shaked profusely whenever I stopped at a traffic light. The service department was closed so I had to come back later. When I came back, I was told it wasn’t the axle. They were obviously nuts. They weren’t sure what was wrong so they referred me to another close-by Subaru dealer. The second dealer replaced the engine mounts even though I told them it was definitely a bad new axle. And I also told them that I had found that aftermarket axles were a known problem in Subaru repair forums due to a tolerance being slightly off. I was scoffed at for getting information “off the internet.” This (certified) dealer then wanted to replace my transmission! Instead, I went back to the first dealer and made a scene: I demanded they replace the axle. They did. It fixed the problem although the transmission suffered permanently because of all of this.

This experience reminds us that repairing things is greatly aided by the internet. Car repair forums are just one type of thousands that are full of information from all categories of people doing repairs on almost everything imaginable. I consult professional forums on the internet for many products. There is a youtube video for most things even if you have to go through a lot of crap before you get what you need. Great DIY repair is more possible than ever before.

Even the majority of us (those) who do not have the repair gene benefit immensely from their DIY brethren, and by third-party repair people. The benefits of sharers of repair information trickles to even those who do not share.

Paul is right that less maintenance is required for cars these days but when it’s required it can cost a lot more than it used to, especially if you do not do recommended maintenance. For example, we need new brakes less often because the pads and discs used now are much better that the shoes and drums of old. Automatic adjusting works better than it used to. Brake calipers require far less maintenance than the old brake cylinders. However, if one neglects having their brake fluid flushed at regular intervals, they can be in for a nasty brake repair. New brakes cost big money at the dealer but for someone who has alway done his own brakes, most of the cost goes away.

Brakes are good to discuss because manufacturers have largely stuck to the tried and true, for safety reasons - brakes are mostly mechanical except for the ABS system (anti-lock). When doing the mechanical brake repair, the ABS system (rather its sensors) are usually not in the way - it doesn’t interfere (ABS works by cutting hydraulic pressure). Electrical or electromechanical brakes are more effective and have long existed (just like ABS before it became widespread) but since they use conventional brakes as backup, and require electricity, they haven’t made it big yet. Individual brake modulation hasn’t made it either.

I discussed the slow evolution of brakes because it’s part of my segue to the self-driving-car frontier. The electronics in late model cars are already highly complicated to the point that you probably won’t see but extremely few of the current cars on the road anymore when they’re decades old because the electronics will break and become unrepairable. In my opinion, current models won’t disappear because of self-driving cars (whose prime time is farther away than that). Enjoy the beautiful old classic cars you see parked or on the road now because there isn’t a new generation to replace them. The current technology crop of cars won’t stick around like old cars used to - they’re mostly ugly and boring anyway.

Right to Repair cannot exist for self-driving-cars (for which model life will be brief). They will be too ridiculously complicated. We have to trust the manufacturers 100%. And I don’t. Just the evolution of your basic brakes has been extremely slow for good reason.

If you did, thanks for going with me on this long rambling repair road.

As much as right to repair does impact the auto industry (and lots of other industries), let’s try to keep the discussions to the computer world.

Personally, I think (and hope) that this push for right to repair will just swing the pendulum back in the other direction a little. I very much doubt that manufacturers will be forced to change their designs in huge ways that would prevent them from creating the kinds of svelte products (iPhone, Apple Watch) we have today. But it would be nice if repair didn’t become an artificial monopoly, which seems to be the direction we’re heading in otherwise.

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If an Apple Store or authorized repair shop botched a job, they are required to fix the device properly or replace it ASAP at no additional cost. Good luck trying to get an unauthorized repair shop to do so. Or you could be stuck with a crummy unauthorized screen, battery, etc.

Ireland doesn’t have an Apple Store, there’s authorised service centres but local only in the main cities, Dublin and Cork. You have to mail it off and accept delay for the shipment back and forth.

Any small independent repair stores local to me span a range of quality, word goes out pretty quickly if any of them are good; We have one, a pair of nerds happily building game machines mainly it seems, but they do a decent job. I’d drop my three year old iPad Air in there for a screen replacement. But I’d be travelling up to Dublin for anything complex or new or expensive. I’d only want the authorised service centre to do that.

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I’ve always hoped that Apple would alter the design of the watch so that it relied less on glued together parts and instead used designs similar to mechanical watches, which can be disassembled, repaired, and reassembled with water resistance maintained. It seems like it would be easier on Apple for repairs and reconditioning than their current designs. Maybe the watch would be a little bigger, and maybe a little more expensive, but it may not need to be a lot bigger or a lot more expensive.

I’m not sure that comparing with mechanical watches works here, since a properly maintained and/or repaired mechanical watch can work for hundreds of years, whereas the Apple Watch probably has about a five-year compatibility lifespan, regardless of its physical condition.

The main problem I hear about with the Apple Watch is the battery going, though I’m sure a fair number of people scratch or break the face too.