Microsoft leads the field by being one of the first major technology companies to undertake an independent study of the benefits of having the right to repair. While the right to repair has been around for more than a decade, the US has lagged behind when it comes to implementing it compared to other countries.
With Microsoft’s commitment, many proponents hope that it can add momentum to the endeavor and enable significant changes in its product design and processes. But what is the right to repair and why is this move by Microsoft such a big deal?
What is the right to repair movement?
The right to repair refers to the legislation that would require technology manufacturers to provide consumers with practical means of repairing their equipment. Often times it comes in the form of parts, tools, diagnostic methods, documentation, and so on. While the movement has been going on for a while, Microsoft and many other tech companies have been downright anti-leakage under the premise of trade secrecy or interference with profits.
For years it was the common practice of many technology companies to restrict access to original parts and repair documents. That being said, leading companies like Apple and Samsung have made several efforts to force customers to only use authorized repair centers despite the significant cost differential.
Traditional methods used to prevent independent repair include warranty voiding or product design that makes parts difficult to remove, such as: Microsoft’s Surface laptop. In addition, manufacturers also carry out part pairings in which components are linked to a specific device serial number by software. This practice renders otherwise compatible parts unnecessarily unusable.
In 2018 the Federal Trade Commission several notices to manufacturers such as Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo for their misleading warranty practices. These practices included voiding warranties once you remove the sticker, third-party parts used for repair, or an unauthorized technician repairing your device. Unfortunately, few of these companies have made any significant changes to these clauses.
The problem with the model of the authorized repair center
There are undoubtedly many advantages to having your device repaired by an authorized service center. Often these accredited centers have trained staff who know exactly how to repair equipment according to manufacturer standards. You can also rest assured that you will not use any foreign parts with your device and that you will be responsible for any problems that may arise later.
However, authorized service partners are often expensive and impractical for both consumers and service providers. While Apple was launching its independent repair program in 2020, many independent repair shops reported unfair legal ramifications preventing them from joining.
Because of this, companies are essentially incentivizing their customers to purchase new products rather than attempting repairs on their old equipment. Ultimately, this drives the consumer culture and increases the environmental impact of production at a time when climate change is a growing problem.
How the Right to Repair Movement Affects You
Shareholder group How you sow put Microsoft under pressure with a shareholder resolution asking it to consider revising its existing repair law guidelines. It finally seems to have worked.
In 2021, Microsoft hired outside consultants to conduct a study of the environmental and social benefits of repairing devices by customers. The study is due to be published in May 2022 and can be a guide for future designs and plans. In time, Microsoft could pioneer that other tech companies can follow.
If the study’s results are positive, this groundbreaking study may put the tide on the right to repair movement and affect US law in the future. Whether this study is just a publicity stunt to reassure consumers, or actually a roadmap for meaningful change, it is a step in the right direction so that you can repair your devices more safely and cheaply.
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