Aug 7, 2019 - Technology

"Right to repair" advocates lobby over antitrust concerns

A man in a green shirt, layered over a red long-sleeved shirt, leans over a counter in front of a sign that says "Genius Bar"

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Advocates who say that companies like Apple lock users into costly repair arrangements are trying to influence a growing debate in Washington over whether giant tech firms have become monopolies.

Why it matters: The issue has gotten less airtime than concerns about Apple's iOS App Store, but it's another possible point of scrutiny for regulators as they look at broader concerns over Big Tech's market power.

Flashback: For years, activists for a so-called "right to repair" have raised concerns about technology companies making it impossible for customers to go to anyone other than the manufacturer if they wanted to get their gear repaired, or restricting repairs to merchants that have the manufacturer's blessing.

  • Apple has become one flashpoint for the issue, given the prevalence of its smartphones.

Driving the news: In letters and testimony submitted to the record for a House Judiciary Committee hearing, right to repair advocates pressed their case that restricting who gets to repair a device is a way of gaining a competitive edge.

  • "Repair hurts sales," of new phones, said Nathan Proctor, who leads the Right to Repair campaign at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "Apple has an incentive to restrict repair of their devices."
  • In a different filing, Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of the Right to Repair Coalition, said that while one option would be for right to repair advocates to go to court, the coalition's members "will be best served through legislation" addressing the issue, since litigation is time-consuming and expensive.

What they're saying: ""We want to make sure our customers always have confidence their products will be repaired safely and correctly, and in a way that supports recycling," said an Apple spokesperson in a statement. "We are continually growing our network of certified technicians and most recently announced that any Best Buy store in the U.S. is now an authorized service provider."

The big picture: The House Judiciary Committee antitrust subcommittee's inquiry into the market power of major tech platforms is one of many such proceedings in Washington.

  • The Federal Trade Commission launched a tech task force and last week, the Department of Justice said it was carrying out its own wide-ranging investigation.
  • Competitors and critics of the tech companies have the opportunity to shape the probes, steering regulators towards their specific concerns.
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