Apple Calls for National Repair Law

Apple Calls for National Repair Law

Every week, we get a roundup of recent developments in Right to Repair news, courtesy of Jack Monahan and Paul Roberts from Fight to Repair, a reader-supported publication. Sign up to receive updates in your inbox. (It’s free!) Or become a premium subscriber for access to exclusive content and live events!

Apple announced last week at a White House convening on right to repair that they will be actively supporting the passage of a nationwide right-to-repair law. Citing the recently inked right to repair law in California, a representative for the company promised that the company would be extending the services now required by the Golden State all across the United States.

ICYMI, Apple surprised the world back in August when they came out in support of the bill in California, which at that point had passed the Senate but not the Assembly. But last week’s message of support for repair went further than the company has ever gone before. If Apple’s long history of lobbying against the issue makes you suspicious, you’re not alone—but advocates say Apple’s new tack is a good sign for the right to repair movement overall.

You’ve got to destroy AirPods to get the battery out. Forget about replacing it.

Vice President of Apple (and only speaker to wear AirPods) Brian Naumann gave the announcement, and if you read between the lines you can learn a lot more about how the company will be approaching right to repair in the future:

“We intend to honor California’s new repair provisions across the United States. Apple also believes that consumers and businesses would benefit from a national law that balances repairability with product integrity, usability and physical safety. We believe that a uniform central repair law should do the following: maintain privacy, data, and device security features which help to thwart theft, ensure transparency for consumers about the type of parts used in a repair.”

Brian Naumann, VP of Apple Inc.

Apple Plays the Long Game

It’s clear the company has shifted its stance because it knows there is no getting the genie back in the bottle. Right to repair has been codified into multiple state-level laws that impact tens of millions of people. As a savvy multinational corporation with fleets of lobbyists that have been effective in shaping policy in the past, they are poised to influence the national law they are now calling for. It’s clear that the company intends to be a player in shaping a national right to repair law in Congress rather than waiting around for other states to add more complications to their business operations. And as the first major corporation to come out in support of a national repair law, they can decide what will be included and what might be excluded.

This comes at the same time that 404 Media is reporting that the tech industry is exploring the idea of creating a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU), similar to agreements in other industries like automotive and agriculture, as a way to manage right to repair legislation’s scope. These MOUs act as voluntary agreements between manufacturers, aiming to standardize repair practices and avoid the complexities of complying with different state laws. This is another potential way tech companies could get ahead of legislation by setting the terms of their MOU to create a framework for lawmakers to latch onto.

See previous coverage on this blog about USB-C MOUs, automotive repair MOUs, and agricultural repair MOUs to understand why advocates are skeptical of the MOU approach—but in summary, they have no enforcement teeth and give manufacturers too much negotiating power.

Anti-Repair Dog Whistles: “Safety” and “Privacy”

Even with explicit support of a right to repair, which can mean different things to different actors, there are dog whistles in Naumann’s comments that are worth mentioning. Naumann strongly emphasized talking points about safety and privacy, possibly indicating that the company would use these arguments in putting boundaries on national legislation.

These overtures to safety and privacy can feel disingenuous, especially because Apple has opposed stricter data privacy laws in the past while simultaneously invoking consumer privacy. There’s no reason that Apple couldn’t introduce a customer-data-protecting Maintenance Mode like Samsung has. Plus, electronics repair is way safer than manufacturers like Apple want to give it credit for—it’s actually six times safer than the average job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Sure, a smartphone battery can start a fire when you stab it repeatedly. But proper repair procedures reduce the risk of a fire to almost nothing, and if manufacturers want to reduce it further, they could use hard cell instead of soft pouch batteries and less (or no) adhesive.

A battery on fire after being stabbed repeatedly

Naumann also spoke to the need for product durability, citing Apple’s new titanium phones as yet another example of how the company is pro-durability and pro-repair while making no mention of planned obsolescence through software or the company’s ongoing, increasing use of parts pairing to block functionality of basic repairs. It’s also worth noting that some drop tests suggest that the iPhone 15’s titanium frame actually makes the front and back glass more susceptible to cracking.

So, it’s great that Apple wants to support national right to repair. But advocates will have to keep holding their feet to the fire to make sure that it’s a law that actually makes progress.

Other News

  • A new California privacy law called the Delete Act: California’s new privacy law has now gone into effect, allowing individuals to opt out of data brokers selling their personal information through a single website, with full implementation expected by 2026. This comes at the same time California passed its right to repair law, becoming the third state in the U.S. to pass this legislation for electronics.
  • PS5 Slim’s disc drive requires internet activation: The upcoming PlayStation 5 Slim’s disc drive installation will require an internet connection, raising concerns for independent repair shops as well as for game preservation generally, potentially creating obstacles in the future when relying on Sony’s authentication servers for legacy game play.
  • A hands-on camera lens repair journey: A fixer recently encountered the frustrations and roadblocks plaguing the world of DIY camera maintenance. Attempting to mend a malfunctioning lens, the writer delves into the profound lack of available replacement parts for camera repair, particularly those elusive flex cables.
  • Recycling electronics can benefit small businesses: By potentially offering money back for old devices, providing resources for manufacturers, reducing harmful waste and pollution, and offering the opportunity to donate still-usable electronics to charitable organizations, small businesses have many reasons to recycle their old hardware.