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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.

Go deeper

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

7 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.