Back

The FTC Votes Unanimously to Enforce Right to Repair

599 points2 dayswired.com
elliekelly2 days ago

See the section titled “What the Magnuson-Moss Act Does Not Require” of the FTC’s “Businessperson’s Guide to Federal Warranty Law”[1] to understand why this is not even close to “enforcing right to repair”. Aside from the fact that the FTC can’t enforce a right to repair law that doesn’t exist, the promise to enforce the Magnuson-Moss Act doesn’t even scratch the surface of what right to repair aims to accomplish. For example, farmers who have famously campaigned for right to repair for years (decades?) aren’t covered by the Act because their equipment is for commercial, not consumer, use.

Edit: Even though I think it’s beyond ridiculous to paint this as “right to repair” I am absolutely going to report Microsoft’s Xbox to the FTC for their egregious Magnuson-Moss violations. Maybe that stupid sticker will finally disappear.

[1]https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/bus...

AussieWog932 days ago

>I am absolutely going to report Microsoft’s Xbox to the FTC for their egregious Magnuson-Moss violations. Maybe that stupid sticker will finally disappear

I sell video games and consoles for a living, and probably repair about 20-30 of them each month.

Based on my experience, the reasons that Microsoft don't want you poking around in your Xbox when it's under warranty are completely valid.

For any console that hasn't been tampered with, the fault is almost always one of only two or three things that can be diagnosed nearly instantly and repaired in around 15-30 minutes with a near-100% success rate.

For a console that has been tampered with by an end-user, suddenly the list of things that could have gone wrong multiplies by an order of magnitude. The diagnostic procedure goes from a simple 1:1 mapping of symptom to fix to a broad tree of debugging steps. The total process can easily take multiple hours and end up nowhere, depending on how many YouTube videos and Reddit threads the previous owner followed blindly.

Of course, the consumer is not going to admit that they're an idiot who transformed their console from a simple fix to something that's beyond economic repair, so either Microsoft has to provide them with a brand new machine or they will face legal action/scathing reviews online.

Short of warranty stickers, what are Microsoft to do?

gchamonlive2 days ago

> Short of warranty stickers, what are Microsoft to do?

Make opening their products accessible so that people can do it without damaging what they own. PCs are like that. Car parts have no such warranty stickers (that I am aware of).

Stickers are much more cultural than actually preventing damage. Furthermore, you can have stickers that decay over time and void your warranty without you even touching them (those nefarious apple humidity stickers for instance). It is entertaining to see Steve from gamer's nexus bashing warranty stickers at every opportunity.

dint2 days ago

Further, provide documentation and support for, and sell spare parts to, users who want to fix their consoles (at least, in the case of procedures that a user could reasonably perform)

I'm a home bicycle mechanic, and all manufacturers of bike components do this.

AussieWog932 days ago

Fair point with the car example. I guess Microsoft could just suck it up and refuse to repair consoles under warranty if the user FUBARs them through bad repairs. They wouldn't be happy, but car people seem to be able to live with it.

+1
arghwhat1 day ago
lordlimecat1 day ago

>you can have stickers that decay over time and void your warranty

They claim it voids your warranty. It does not.

This is an important distinction. Ask them for the warranty repair, if they refuse send a demand letter. If they blow you off take them to small claims court.

ryandrake2 days ago

> Make opening their products accessible so that people can do it without damaging what they own. PCs are like that. Car parts have no such warranty stickers (that I am aware of).

Soon that will be a bad example! Cars are quickly moving in this terrible direction. You used to be able to wrench them yourself, but every model year there is less and less serviceable by your friendly shade-tree mechanic. If the manufacturers are not stopped, we'll soon need to take our cars to the "Authori$ed Repair" centers or Dealer$hips to perform even basic maintenance.

+1
yurishimo2 days ago
nomel2 days ago

> Make opening their products accessible so that people can do it without damaging what they own.

I think this misses the point that the problem is the unqualified tampering with the internals, not removing the case so you can access them.

+2
gchamonlive1 day ago
mycall2 days ago

The right to repair also means if you break it, you own both halves. It is the right to risk. If I want to run SteamOS on an Xbox, let me try at least. If I succeed, let me resell the modified form. Buyer Beware in the social network age. Don't make that illegal.

colechristensen2 days ago

>For any console that hasn't been tampered with

Why shouldn't I be able to "tamper" with something that I own?

If they weren't so hostile to modification and repair, the failure rate of people trying to do things themselves would go down quite a lot.

AussieWog932 days ago

>Why shouldn't I be able to "tamper" with something that I own?

Of course you should be able to. You shouldn't expect someone else to repair it for free when you botch up the job completely, though.

>If they weren't so hostile to modification and repair, the failure rate of people trying to do things themselves would go down quite a lot.

Having opened up consoles from the NES era right through the Xbone, I don't think it's fair to say they're hostile to repair. There is a good supply for just about every part that fails commonly in every console from the last 35 years.

Anti-repair technology like serialization is limited to the parts that could be comandeered to enable "backups", and the systems themselves are fairly simple for a skilled person to navigate through. Ribbons will typically have clips at both ends (DS being the notable exception) and common "problem parts like" fans, laser modules and HDDs are always easy to remove and replace (with the exception of the laser/HDD in the OG Xbox). The newer consoles do use BGA and 4+ layer boards, but that's to be expected as it keeps the BOM cost and size down.

+1
effingwewt1 day ago
+2
guerrilla2 days ago
bluGill1 day ago

> Why shouldn't I be able to "tamper" with something that I own?

Because you will remove the emissions controls and make your car pollute the air I have to breath.

Maybe you don't care about the above, but a lot of people do.

TeMPOraL1 day ago

So how about we don't rely on trusting the car hardware on this? Let's test it externally, and treat it as any other kind of technical problem that makes a car illegal to drive.

Cars undergo regular checkup. Add emission tests to the requirements. Deny road-worthiness status for cars that fail.

Add spot emission checks to traffic stops - police stops you for speeding or broken headlamp, they can also take 30 seconds to stick a probe into your car's tailpipe. Fine people for violations and possibly take away road-worthiness status, depending on how badly emissions exceed the standards.

Basically, make it illegal to tune your car in a way that breaks emission norms, and (with spot checks) make cheating not worth the effort.

(This would be only temporary anyway; once most cars on the road are electric, the few remaining ICEs won't emit enough to matter - and any attempt to make them pollute noticeably will be easy to spot with an unarmed eye.)

seer2 days ago

What you say is very valid - You get stuff you own and under warranty repaired for cheaper.

But if that all is true, wouldn’t it be better if that list of problems/solutions were forced to be public? And people would be left to try, if they wanted to, to fix it themselves?

I personally think Governments should encourage this kind of endeavors from their citizens as that fosters the kind of people who could become better innovators and ultimately benefitting all.

Otherwise you benefit the company that produced it and maybe licensed repair shops. I know it’s supposed to benefit the consumer in the end for cheaper prices, but I have a feeling this is not what ends up happening and corporations and middle men eat those profits.

If there is one thing cursory observation of global economics makes obvious, it is that states that have more entrepreneurs and innovators become the best to live in in the long term, and I would imagine they would attempt to craft their laws to encourage that.

AussieWog932 days ago

>I personally think Governments should encourage this kind of endeavors from their citizens as that fosters the kind of people who could become better innovators and ultimately benefitting all.

I definitely get where you're coming from.

Personally, I got into electronics because my Nintendo DS broke and my parents wouldn't buy me a new one. I now have a EEE degree and a pair of businesses that I would have never been able to set up without the STEM knowledge that I was forced to learn to get emulators on my PSP etc.

Publishing good repair guides would definitely be a positive step in the right direction that encourages more kids to do the same and actually succeed. The knowledge out there on Reddit, YouTube and forums is mostly incorrect, harmful and spread by people who don't actually perform the repairs themselves. iFixit is good but sparse, especially for older hardware.

I've thought about uploading some videos to YouTube going over both the theory and practice of diagnosis/repair, but I doubt I'm the first person to come up with this idea despite not being able to find any of them. I suspect that the algorithm will favour content from creators with high production values, good presenting skills and a regular upload schedule over and above expertise in an extremely specific area of electronics repair.

ballenf1 day ago

Your example makes the opposite case: it seems trivially easy to see whether a failure is the result of user error (legitimately invalidating the warranty) or inherent defect/failure.

guerrilla2 days ago

So? Charge more. It's none of yoir business. Also, don't call them idiots. They took a risk for a reason, which is entirely rational.

names_are_hard1 day ago

This. Your customers are not idiots, they're non-experts who chose to try to repair something on their own, possibly learning something in the process. Good for them! Sometimes they might succeed, sometimes they get stuck and bring it in to a professional. You are entitled to tell them, in a non-accusatory tone, that due to previous repair work that was attempted the job will take longer and you charge by the hour.

That's the risk they accepted when trying to DIY and there's nothing wrong with that.

donmcronald2 days ago

People have no idea how nasty serialization of parts is going to get if it isn't stopped by new legislation. You'll be lucky if you don't have to buy your socks and shoes from the same vendor in 2030 :-(

dataflow2 days ago

The issue isn't merely the same vendor, but having to buy parts bundled together. Good luck replacing your hard drive/RAM/whatever separately from the rest of your machine without blessing from the manufacturer.

eclipxe2 days ago

Ehhh...I mean with the way things are evolving - it is very likely your long term storage, short term storage, and CPU will all be on the same chip/package. Expecting to be able to replace the components individually will largely be a relic of the past. I see it more as the evolution of overall computing. I mean in the early ages of computers you could replace individual transistors...then you could replace individual logic blocks...a new adder! Etc...as the technology shrunk and become more integrated, our concept of a "computer" evolves. Legislating things like "a hard drive and ram must be separately replaceable" will sound as implausible in a few years as "each transistor needs to be individually serviceable" does today.

dataflow2 days ago

Sure, that's why nobody suggested legislation be written about hard drive and RAM replacement in particular.

jandrese2 days ago

Isn’t this already the case with Macs and their SSDs tied to the disk controller? Add in stacked memory being unreplaceable and impossible to upgrade.

The upgrade path is to throw away the entire machine and buy a new one.

dataflow2 days ago

Apple has been a particularly notable offender of R2R. Others have been (and will continue to be) following suit.

nomel2 days ago

But this is the inevitable, and desired, future of integrated circuits, with more and more being bundled into the SoC. Integration has always had, and will continue to have, very real and desirable benefits to the consumer.

throwawaycuriou1 day ago

A curious counterexample of this that's existed for decades is the motherboard. Once one part breaks on that you're throwing out a lot of functioning parts.

I've often wondered why the boundaries were defined where they are for its responsibilities. What was it like building PCs before the concept of a the current motherboard architecture existed?

ziml771 day ago

I'd be surprised if you couldn't get the parts to repair a normal desktop motherboard. But as far as I know there aren't really any repair shops that work on stuff like that. Likely because the motherboards in most desktops are fairly cheap and easy to replace. On laptops, the main board is the most expensive part. More so ever since everything started being soldered on instead of socketed.

Maybe the solution is to getting people to repair desktop motherboards instead of tossing them is to turn the cost to the environment of generating e-waste into an actual monetary cost. (Though I can't say I know how you'd do that since making e-waste disposal cost money will mean that people will just dump that stuff in the normal trash)

bradstewart1 day ago

I've replaced many VRMs, capacitors, etc, over the years--even a PCIe socket I melted once. It's been a few years since my overclocking days where I'd burn this stuff out, but it was pretty easy to replace most things on those boards, assuming you were semi-capable with a soldering iron.

R0b0t12 days ago

The commercial exception is very strange. So I can simply say my product is intended for commercial use only and then ignore the law, regardless of actual end use?

Is this the real reason why "commercial grade" is a thing?

colechristensen2 days ago

The premise is that consumers do not have the resources or leverage to adequately protect themselves (before and after purchase) from businesses. The premise doesn't always match the reality that imbalance still often exists.

"commercial grade" is usually just marketing BS.

closeparen2 days ago

Consumer protection is not really concerned with B2B power struggles.

lordlimecat1 day ago

Is the sticker actually a violation of Magnusson-Moss?

They cannot enforce what the sticker says, but lying is not necessarily illegal.

elliekelly1 day ago

It’s not necessarily a Magnuson-Moss violation (though it could be, if repair service and parts aren’t provided for free) but because the “warranty void if removed” is always untrue it’s an “unfair or deceptive business practice” prohibited by Section 5 of the FTC Act.

asiachick1 day ago

In other words, it's possible someone at Wired was paid or duped into making an article that suggests "It's all good now, no need to keep fighting for the right to repair"

devwastaken2 days ago

"First, the Commission urges the public to submit complaints and provide other information to aid in greater enforcement of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and its implementing regulations. While current law does not provide for civil penalties or redress, the Commission will consider filing suit against violators of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act to seek appropriate injunctive relief."

"Second, the Commission will scrutinize repair restrictions for violations of the antitrust laws. For example, certain repair restrictions may constitute tying arrangements or monopolistic practices—such as refusals to deal, exclusive dealing, or exclusionary design—that violate the Sherman Act.8 Violations of the Sherman Act also violate the prohibition on unfair methods of competition codified in Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. "

We've had these laws on the books for a long time. I'm not confident that they're going to be effectively applied, unless the FTC has significantly increased in size and capability recently.

inglor_cz1 day ago

I wonder if Right to Repair is going to cover creation of updated firmwares for abandoned products.

Old firmwares are full of known and exploitable holes.

bluGill1 day ago

Will it also have a non-exception for bypassing pollution controls? For cars that seems to be what people who want to change the firmware are really trying to do in every case I've seen. (I'm not claiming all cases are trying this, just every one that I've dug into)

sokoloff1 day ago

I'm an auto enthusiast and have modified some of my cars over the years. All I'll admit to is that all my current cars meet all emissions standards to the best of my knowledge, but that may have been less true for cars I've owned in the past.

I've never had the intention of bypassing a pollution control device. What's the point in that (coal rolling idiots aside)? What I have had is the intention to improve torque, power, sound, durability, or economy (what I actually care about) which sometimes has the inherent side-effect of changing the pollution profile to be different than what the manufacturer originally shipped. But to say that I'm "really trying to [bypass pollution controls]" is at least one step removed from the actual facts.

I also think it's at least a little bit amusing that I can run a 65/66 Mustang with nothing more than a PCV valve (which is at least as much for my convenience in keeping the outside of the engine oil-free as it is for emissions), but in some states I can't put a cold air intake on a 2020 Honda.

vodkapump12 hours ago

He's probably refering to DPF (diesel particulate filter) deletes. I'm pretty sure that is what just about 95% of customers at tune shops in Europe are in there for, bypassing or deleting DPF so they don't have to deal with all the costs around it. (and the annoyances of software messing with how your car drives to "renew" the DPF randomly)

I know someone that runs a tune shop in my small town and I'd say it is about 99.99% of his customers that are in for a DPF delete or bypass.

bluGill5 hours ago

That is the big one. There are several other ways to increase power or fuel mileage at the expense of emissions, but DPF is the largest compromise.

bharathlohray22 hours ago

Unless the law mandates the release of a service manual & software, the law is lip service. I don't mind if the service manual & software are released after a few years. But they need to be proofed against companies going belly up - like file compileable & modifiable code with FCC FTC or similar agencies to be released after n years.

temp89642 days ago

Let's say there is a right to repair and it gets perfectly enforced, doesn't this change the current business model of certain products which heavily relies on repair to profit? Wouldn't it just make those products more expensive to purchase?

commoner2 days ago

Not necessarily. If a device were repairable, users would be more likely to repair it when it breaks instead of replacing it with a new one. This reduces demand for new devices and pushes the price downward.

On the other hand, a device that is repairable has a longer lifespan than the same device if it were not repairable. The longer lifespan adds utility and perceived value to the repairable device, which would increase demand and push the price upward.

It's hard to say whether the net result would be a higher or lower price. It would depend on the product and the market.

lupire2 days ago

> This reduces demand for new devices and pushes the price downward.

That's not right.

In the common case of a multivendor industry where production is not limited by resource constraints, reduced demand raises prices due to economy of scale.

toast02 days ago

What sorts of repairable goods aren't limited by resource constraints in today's marketplace. The most common constrained resource being integrated circuits.

+1
Robotbeat2 days ago
lukevp2 days ago

Well, with automotive, the main profit center of dealerships is the service dept. the manufacturer and the dealer are different, and can adapt to the demand of each of the respective roles. More demand for cars but more self-repair means a bigger manufacturer and smaller/fewer dealerships, not that the product cost itself needs to change. I think similarly a company’s size if it’s based on selling support is based around the demand for that support plus the profitability that’s possible to sell it for before there is competition for 3rd parties to provide that support. Kinda like red hat, they made money off of support but anyone could support Linux or red hat systems, so there was a market force keeping them from charging too much for support because other vendors could undercut them.

elil172 days ago

Can anyone explain what the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act does to protect the right to repair?

dataflow2 days ago

I've heard it makes it illegal for vendors to void a warranty merely because you used it in an 'unauthorized' fashion. i.e. it puts the burden of proof on them to show that your modifications actually damaged the product. This protects peoples' right to repair by ensuring that they don't (effectively) get retaliated against through warranty invalidation when they get their products repaired by 'unauthorized' parties.

I think the relevant clause might be 15 U.S.C. § 2304 (c) but I'm not sure: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/2304

The enforcement of this act has been quite awful in the past, so I guess they're now planning to do a better job of it.

nrp2 days ago

The FTC themselves put up a highly readable overview of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act for business that also provides insight on the consumer impact: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/bus...

I captured some highlights from it earlier this year while crafting a warranty policy for a new product:

FTC: In addition, it is permissible to disclaim warranty coverage for defects or damage caused by the use of parts or service you didn’t provide. Here is an example of a permissible provision in that circumstance:

* Necessary maintenance or repairs on your AudioMundo Stereo System can be performed by any company. Damage caused to the AudioMundo Stereo System by you or any non-authorized third party, however, may void this warranty.

FTC: There is one permissible modification of implied warranties, however. If you offer a "limited" written warranty, the law allows you to include a provision that restricts the duration of implied warranties to the duration of your limited warranty. For example, if you offer a two-year limited warranty, you can limit implied warranties to two years. However, if you offer a "full" written warranty, you cannot limit the duration of implied warranties. This matter is explained in Titling Written Warranties as "Full" or "Limited".

FTC: The Act allows warranties to include a provision that requires customers to try to resolve warranty disputes by means of the informal dispute resolution mechanism before going to court. (This provision applies only to cases based upon the Magnuson-Moss Act.) If you include such a requirement in your warranty, your dispute resolution mechanism must meet the requirements stated in the FTC's Rule on Informal Dispute Settlement Procedures (the Dispute Resolution Rule). Briefly, the Rule requires that a mechanism must:

FTC: The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act requires that every written warranty on a consumer product that costs more than $10 have a title that says the warranty is either "full" or "limited" (The Act calls these titles "designations.") The title is intended to provide consumers, at a glance, with a key to some of the important terms and conditions of a warranty.

* You do not limit the duration of implied warranties.

* You provide warranty service to anyone who owns the product during the warranty period.

* You provide warranty service free of charge.

* You provide, at the consumer's choice, either a replacement or a full refund if, after a reasonable number of tries, you are unable to repair the product.

* You do not require consumers to perform any duty as a precondition for receiving service, except notifying you that service is needed, unless you can demonstrate that the duty is reasonable.

* You are not required to make your entire warranty "full" or "limited" If the statements above are true about the coverage on only some parts of your product, or if the statements are true about the coverage during only one part of the warranty period, then your warranty is a multiple warranty that is part full and part limited.

FTC: The warrantors who choose the online method to provide their warranty terms must supply in the product manual, or on the product or product packaging, the internet address where the consumer can review and obtain the specific product’s warranty terms, as well as the phone number, postal mailing address, or other reasonable non-internet based means for the consumer (or seller) to request a free copy of the warranty terms.

FTC: The Guides advise that, regardless of the price of the product, advertising terms such as "satisfaction guaranteed" or "money back guarantee" should be used only if the advertiser is willing to provide full refunds to customers when, for any reason, they return the merchandise.

* The Guides further advise that an ad mentioning a satisfaction guarantee or similar offer should inform consumers of any material conditions or limitations on the offer. For example, a restriction on the offer to a specific time period, such as 30 days, is a material condition that should be disclosed.

koilke1 day ago
neycoda19 hours ago

Yay!

rubyist5eva2 days ago

Silly rabbit, you can't enforce laws or protect rights that don't exist.

xs2 days ago

Oh wonderful. So that means John Deere can drop all the lawsuits against farmers who try to repair their own tractors since farmers didn't break any law. Right?

rubyist5eva2 days ago

Farmers don't have the right to compel John Deere to open their source code.

userbinator2 days ago

JD doesn't necessarily need to open their source code, it just has to be legal for others to disassemble and analyse their software and publish the results --- just like you can do with practically every physical object you own.

+1
sennight2 days ago
torstenvl2 days ago

Source code has been compelled in discovery in many, many lawsuits.

Perhaps you've heard of Oracle Am., Inc. v. Google Inc.?

Or SCO Group, Inc. v. International Business Machines Corp.?

rubyist5eva1 day ago

Not even close to the same use of the word - coerce is probably a better term.

ffffwe3rq352y32 days ago

They totally have the right to yell and scream at John Deere all they want.

sam3452 days ago

Yes, I don't see this doing much. There are no federal right to repair laws to enforce. And I think that's a good thing as burdening manufacturers with interpreting piles of regulations requiring a team of lawyers to figure out is a sure way to kill small manufacturing start-ups, create moats around big manufacturers that have the lawyers and resources to handle right to repair requirements, and kill innovation.

wtallis2 days ago

This looks like a completely generic anti-regulation comment. Have you given any consideration to what specific behaviors would likely be targeted by right to repair regulations, and how that overlaps with the business practices of start-ups and other small manufacturing companies?

Small companies that can't afford lawyers to interpret federal regulations probably also can't afford lawyers to go after customers who don't choose to pay for the premium service plan, and probably also can't afford to devote engineering resources to developing their own hardware DRM systems.

R0b0t12 days ago

You are seeing it incorrectly. If I buy a thing and then it remains broken because the manufacturer made specific choices, they should be forced to give me my money back.

rowanG0771 day ago

It's really not that hard. You are wrongly assuming these regulations are complex and hard to implement. They are really not.