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Technology

How you lost the right to repair your tech — and the fight to get it back

Across the nation, people like you are fighting for the right to fix their tech gadgets. It all comes down to a simple issue: If your iPhone breaks down, do you know how to repair it?

Unless you’re a certified technician who works with Apple, the answer is probably “no.” You can’t just open up YouTube and find a one-minute do-it-yourself tutorial. You’ll have to head to a specialized store and ask an expert to do it for you.

That’s by design. Modern tech companies are protective of device repairs, whether they make phones, smart fridges, computers or tractors. But now, people are taking the fight against Big Tech to Congress — and making history in the process. On Thursday, New York Congressman Joe Morelle introduced a historic bill that would help Americans fix their devices.

Advocates say it’s a matter of ownership. If you bought a device, it’s your right to fix it

For the past few years, many American tech corporations have been throwing their weight around. They’ve made millions by limiting your repair options, squashing consumer rights in the process, repair advocates say.

Independent DIY websites like iFixit stepped up to fill the gap. This website is full of helpful guides that teach you how to fix your devices at home. It also calls out companies that try to take repair rights away:

It’s common practice to refuse to make parts, tools, and repair information available to consumers and small repair shops. Apple even created a special screw specifically to make it hard to repair the iPhone.

iFixit, Right to Repair

This isn’t anything new, either. It’s been brewing in the background for around a decade. American corporations have lorded over their power, putting a bad taste in many Americans’ mouths.

For example, Apple doesn’t sell repair parts to independent shops. In some cases, it will even sue third-party repair technicians. It’s not alone in its attempts to control consumer repair rights, though:

Here’s the Right to Repair movement in a nutshell: If you buy something, you own it. You should be able to fix it on your own terms. For example, advocates say you shouldn’t have to drop $100 on an iPhone you already spent $600 on.

But how did we lose the right to fix our devices in the first place?

It all started when powerful companies realized they could make bank by nickel-and-diming you over repair costs. Think of it this way: Tech companies want to make as much money off their customers as possible. We’re pretty much cash cows to them; even after you’ve bought a device, they still want to squeeze as many dollars out of you as they can.

Let’s say your smartphone, laptop, gaming console or even tractor breaks down. The company that designed your device sees that as a money-making opportunity. If you repair it at home, you won’t have to drop $300 on repairs. Sure, that’s good for you and your wallet. But the company would rather you give it $300.

You may ask yourself, “How is this legal?” That’s thanks to the persistent lobbying efforts from powerful corporations like Tesla, Apple, AT&T and John Deere. They argue that they have ownership over their intellectual property, which means they should control device repairs. And their lobbyists can be incredibly convincing.

The Fair Repair Act could trigger a nationwide trend

The wheels are already in motion. This law could be the sounding horn that gets the train driving down tracks across the country. Already, 25 states are considering laws that would protect consumer rights to repair this year, according to the United States Public Interest Group.

Plus, the idea has widespread bipartisan support. In fact, 71% of American voters support this kind of legislation, according to a report from Data for Progress.

We’ll be watching the news closely and keeping you up-to-date on the latest stories. Sign up for Kim’s newsletters to get breaking news straight to your inbox!

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