FTC Report Highlights Consumer Harms of Manufacturer Repair Restrictions

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has published an in-depth report looking at how the product repair restrictions that manufacturers put in place negatively impact consumers and small businesses in various ways.

apple independent repair program
Titled "Nixing the Fix," the report covers a litany of methods that companies use to limit the ability for customers and independent business to repair their products.

Focusing on mobile phone and car manufacturers in particular, the report found that even when a warranty does not explicitly require that repairs be performed by the original manufacturer, many manufacturers restrict independent repair and repair by consumers in the following ways:

  • Product designs that complicate or prevent repair
  • Unavailability of parts and repair information
  • Designs that make independent repairs less safe
  • Policies or statements that steer consumers to manufacturer repair networks
  • Application of patent rights and enforcement of trademarks
  • Disparagement of non-OEM parts and independent repair
  • Software locks and firmware updates
  • End User License Agreements

Manufacturers including Apple have argued that these repair restrictions exist to protect intellectual property rights and prevent injuries and other negative consequences, and that opening up repair access would undermine the safety and security of their products.

However, after evaluating manufacturers' explanations for the repair restrictions via a workshop and requests for research, the FTC found "scant evidence" to support them. The report continues:

Many consumer products have become harder to fix and maintain. Repairs today often require specialized tools, difficult-to-obtain parts, and access to proprietary diagnostic software. Consumers whose products break then have limited choices.

Furthermore, the burden of repair restrictions may fall more heavily on communities of color and lower-income communities. Many Black-owned small businesses are in the repair and maintenance industries, and difficulties facing small businesses can disproportionately affect small businesses owned by people of color.

The report cites one study which found that the appearance of electronic goods was only "moderately" important to consumers, as opposed to longevity and reliability, which were "extremely" important, and suggests that the lack of information regarding repairability causes "an asymmetry in the market balance and leaves consumers unable to make the best buying decisions regarding to their own needs."

In addition, the report notes that given a choice between a low-cost repair and buying a new mobile phone, many consumers will opt for the former. In defence of this claim, it cites Apple's 2017 battery replacement program, which was introduced after Apple was found to be throttling the performance of some iPhone models to compensate for degrading batteries. In a letter to investors, CEO Tim Cook said that ‌iPhone‌ sales were lower than anticipated due to "some customers taking advantage of significantly reduced pricing for ‌iPhone‌ battery replacements."

In the conclusion of the report, which was carried out at the direction of Congress and submitted with unanimous consent, the FTC pledges to address what it perceives as unfair restrictions by pursuing "appropriate law enforcement and regulatory options, as well as consumer education, consistent with our statutory authority."

The FTC also suggests that consumers can help to redress the balance by reporting when manufacturers aren't obeying the existing rules regarding repairs.

"This is a great step in the right direction," said iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens, commenting on the report. "The bi-partisan report shows that FTC knows that the market has not regulated itself, and is committing to real action."

"We're glad to see the FTC acknowledge the scope of the problem, and the real harm to consumers. We're also happy to see the FTC's pledge to undertake enforcement and regulatory solutions to repair restrictions, and fully support them in doing so—these actions are long overdue."

Apple continues to lobby against state-level legislation that would require electronic hardware manufacturers to provide device schematics, device parts, and instructions to third-party repair shops for device repairs. A "right to repair" bill currently being contemplated in Nevada is one of many bills that states across the US are considering to put into law, although none have yet been successful.

Outside of the U.S., the European Parliament in November voted to support the recommendations of the EU Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection on the "Right to Repair," including a system of mandatory labelling on consumer electronics to provide explicit information on the repairability and lifespan of products.

Top Rated Comments

totom_ Avatar
23 months ago

I'm curious on how repairability of Apple Car looks like .............
Got a flat tire and no Apple Care? Might as well buy a new car
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
BulkSlash Avatar
23 months ago
In fairness there is one upside to Apple pairing all components to a single device- it makes an iPhone much less desirable to steal. When Apple first put the ability to lock and remotely wipe devices into iOS it stopped a lot of theft but then thieves found they could still sell devices for parts. With components locked to a device they can't even do that now, so while this does come at a cost for repairability, it's not completely bad.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Spock Avatar
23 months ago

I'm curious on how repairability of Apple Car looks like .............
Look up John Deere right to repair and you’ll have your answer.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Morgenland Avatar
23 months ago
Why did the U.S. Federal Trade Commission previously allow the production of mechanical watches that could not be repaired even by specialists and had to be sent to the manufacturer? Basically, these commissions today make themselves the shillelagh of lobby representatives directed against Apple. And they are surely aware of this?
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Morgenland Avatar
23 months ago

Apple only cares about selling more devices. Who cares that it’s destroyed the environment. Who cares that if fixable most of these devices could last years more than they do now. Who cares when Apple markets a new device that is 35% lighter, 50% brighter, 45% faster that they could have released 5 years ago but didn’t because they could sell you 4 phone in between. All to make money.
1. In terms of content, what you write is of course very debatable. Of course, you know that the built-in components (LIDAR, displays, batteries, camera) are the latest that can be used in mass production. This is the only way Apple can keep its nose in front. Nothing is artificially delayed for '5 years'.
But I have certainly heard such opinions in the schoolyard.

2. You must be a fierce opponent of Tesla in terms of environment. E-Cars flood the world with huge batteries that are hardly recycled beyond advertising brochures.
Have you ever seen a car battery recycling production line somewhere on the internet? Not me! That's how well lobbying can work.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mikethemartian Avatar
23 months ago
I have a SonicCare toothbrush that stopped working and was never even sure if someone could pay to have it fixed outside the warranty period. Oral-B does mention being able to pay for an out of warranty repair on their product. The thing about the SonicCare is often, and in my case, nothing is really broken. It just has a metal plate that slips over time and needs to be readjusted to correctly set a gap between the electromagnet and mechanical linkage to the brush head. But there is no official published specification on what the gap should ideally be. So probably a lot of brush handles end up in the garbage or ewaste recycle bin that aren’t really broken.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

iPhone trade in

Apple Adjusts Trade-In Values for iPhones, Macs, and More

Wednesday January 25, 2023 9:40 am PST by
After announcing new Mac and HomePod models last week, Apple adjusted its trade-in values for select devices in the United States. iPhone trade-in values decreased by up to $80, and most Android smartphones also went down. Mac trade-in values remained unchanged or increased by up to $40 depending on the model, while some Apple Watch models increased in value and others decreased. Trade-in...
iphone 15 pro wifi 6e

Internal Apple Document From Leaker 'Unknownz21' Confirms Wi-Fi 6E Will Be Limited to iPhone 15 Pro Models

Friday January 27, 2023 10:01 am PST by
Multiple rumors have suggested that the next-generation iPhone 15 models will adopt the Wi-Fi 6E standard that Apple has already introduced in the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro, and now a leaked document appears to confirm Apple's plans. Sourced from researcher and Apple leaker Unknownz21 (@URedditor), the document features diagrams of the iPhone 15's antenna architecture. D8x refers to the...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Expected to Feature Wi-Fi 6E Like Latest Macs and iPad Pro

Wednesday January 25, 2023 5:39 pm PST by
The iPhone 15 will support Wi-Fi 6E, according to a research note shared this week by Barclays analysts Blayne Curtis and Tom O'Malley. The analysts did not specify whether the feature will be available on all models or limited to the Pro models. Apple has added Wi-Fi 6E support to a handful of devices so far, including the latest 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook...
maxresdefault

Hands-On With the New M2 Max MacBook Pro

Thursday January 26, 2023 12:14 pm PST by
New 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with the latest M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are available in Apple retail stores and are already in the hands of customers, and we picked up one of the new M2 Max machines to answer all of the questions MacRumors readers considering a purchase might have. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Yesterday, we asked MacRumors fans on...
Mac Pro 2019 Apple

Mac Pro Enthusiasts Raise Concerns Over Upgrade Limitations of Apple Silicon

Thursday January 26, 2023 6:30 am PST by
The new Mac Pro coming later this year is expected to feature the same spacious modular design as the 2019 model, but with fresh concerns over its lack of upgradeability surfacing, some users are beginning to wonder what the transition away from Intel architecture actually means for Apple's most powerful Mac. The current Intel Mac Pro that Apple sells is popular with creative professionals...
iOS 16

iOS 16.3 for iPhone Launching Next Week With These 4 New Features

Friday January 20, 2023 11:43 am PST by
In a recent press release, Apple confirmed that iOS 16.3 will be released to the public next week. The software update will be available for the iPhone 8 and newer and includes a handful of new features, changes, and bug fixes. Below, we've recapped bigger features in iOS 16.3, including support for physical security keys as a two-factor authentication option for Apple ID accounts, worldwide ...
iPhone 14 Pro Purple Side Perspective Feature Purple

iPhone 15 Pro Rumored to Have These 8 Features

Friday January 27, 2023 2:11 pm PST by
Apple's next-generation iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max are expected to be announced in September as usual. Already, rumors suggest the devices will have at least eight exclusive features not available on the standard iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus. An overview of the eight features rumored to be exclusive to iPhone 15 Pro models:A17 chip: iPhone 15 Pro models will be equipped with an A17...