Sign in with Microsoft

Australia’s consumer affairs ministers have agreed to consider right to repair laws boosting people’s ability to repair their phones and other electronic goods, rather than send them to the dump.

The ABC reports that ACT Consumer Affairs Minister Shane Rattenbury took the right to repair idea to the Consumer Affairs Forum, which includes ministers from both Australia and New Zealand, arguing a national approach to the issue was necessary.

Its all part of the emerging push for the ‘right to repair’ that have seen tough new laws in the US and Europe force manufacturers to cooperate with legitimate third-party repairers and provide specialist tools, diagnostic software and genuine parts to enable consumers to have a choice of repairer.

Right to repair
Sorry you cannot buy this special tool!

The right to repair movement aims to stop broken consumer goods ending up as e-waste.

Australia’s consumer affairs ministers must pass laws boosting peoples’ ability to repair their phones and other electronic goods, rather than send them to the dump.

For example, a smartphone battery has a re-charge cycle of between 200-500 times (depends on quality). A heavy user can exhaust that in a year. The phone is perfectly good otherwise, but you cannot use it. Outlawing non-removable batteries for a start would be a great move.

But even in Australia smartphone recyclers are forced to use ‘authorised repairers’ at exorbitant rates to replace an iPhone battery or screen because the ‘secret sauce’ is denied to them.

Rattenbury has the right idea. He said the laws would require manufacturers to make easily repairable products.

“It is about building products that can be easily disassembled, that can be opened up, the spare parts are available, and then take standard tools to repair them. They’re the sort of guarantees that we need to put into our consumer laws to enable the repair industry to continue to grow.”

You buy a car, and you expect to be able to change the tyres or get a logbook service without voiding warranty. Right?

The movement started with cars some time ago where third-party repairers won the right to do log-book services without voiding the warranty.

But this opens the doors to manufacturers denying warranty claims if they can prove the third-party repairer contributed, even minutely to the claim. The costs of using authorised dealers and genuine spare parts are many times what a local mechanic charges but you put up with that to keep warranty going.

Well, soon the Government will introduce a mandatory scheme to allow legitimate third-party repairers to access to ‘secret’ diagnostic codes, computer software, specialist tools, log-book service schedules, motor repair manuals as well as genuine parts. This scheme will provide a level playing field and allow consumers to have their vehicles safely repaired by the repairer of their choice.

But the proposed legislation does not go nearly far enough.

What about consumer electronics?

There is no’ right to repair’ during the warranty, and companies like Apple are fighting the government at every turn to keep the lucrative repair business, both in-and-out or warranty in its ‘walled garden’.

right to repair

The result – you pay $400-500 for a replacement screen or $200 for a battery. To make matter worse, you sign your rights away by taking out expensive Apple Care+ programs that, apart from covering accidental breakage, are nothing but a worthless extended warranty that the Australian Consumer Law covers anyway.

Apple says it builds them, it knows how to fix them, and that is that! iFixit says Apple incorporate unique codes on important Apple components that talk to each other creating a monopoly where only Apple can fix them.

You do not really own an Apple, just a licence to use it on its terms.

Tara Bunch, vice president of AppleCare, said in a statement that when “A customer ever needs to repair their products, we want them to feel confident those repairs are done safely and correctly.”

That is insulting and condescending to the many highly competent third-party repairers who could do just as good a job but cannot access the ‘secret sauce’ needed to repair it correctly.

What about out of warranty?

Apple is one company that makes it extremely hard to get repairs done anywhere else, but Apple or its authorised repairers. Yes, still at exorbitant rates. Third-party repairers do not have access to Apple’s diagnostic codes, genuine parts, tools and repair guides.

Well, the mood is changing, and the ACCC, EU and the US FTC amongst others are pressuring Apple. So much so that it announced in late August that in the US it would trial providing some help to legitimate independent repairers for out-of-warranty repairs only.

EU

Apple says the new program is free to join but that shops must have an Apple-certified technician who has taken a preparatory course provided by the company. Who knows how many hoops they will go through or what that costs?

Ironically Apple is still vigorously fighting the California right to repair bill that would make it mandatory to supply owners as well as repair shops without such qualification.

So, with any luck we will see the end of fiascos like #Error 53 (that cost Apple a A$9 million fine – good going ACCC), battery swap issues (software locks suggesting issues that are not there), slowing down of old iPhones etc.

Right to repair is about your choice and convenience

it is about extending the life of a perfectly adequate smartphone beyond the manufacturer’s planned obsolescence via battery replacement, replacing parts that tend to break (like micro-USB ports) and screens.

But it is also about convenience. If you live in Woop Woop then you want to use a repairer there. This is a big country.

What it is not about is planned obsolesce and the ‘need’ to buy a new smartphone every two years to fil Apple’s coffers.

Repair manifesto

What about other brands?

Apple is certainly the tall poppy here with the deepest pockets, and I suspect other brands are letting it fight the battle. So, while Apple is the most obvious media target the others are conspicuous by their absence.

The only brand to make a positive stand is Motorola, and it wants smartphones to be able to be easily repaired by third-parties. That is enough to make me buy Motorola any day.

What can Aussies do to get right to repair?

GadgetGuy has a good primer article here.

Search Google for ‘right to repair’ and become an advocate. If you know a politician, ask why the legislation is so slow to move.

It is not just smartphones either. It is the attitude that electronics manufacturers have about making things so damned hard to repair.  Hermetically sealed devices, non-removable batteries, complete unit over component replacement and an increasing move to a ‘swap warranty’ so they don’t have to keep parts to fix things.

It is time to start looking at repairability as part of a purchase decision.