Opinion: Consumers should have right to repair devices, not be held hostage

By Shawna Moore
Staff Writer

Being on a college campus, you hear a lot about your rights — especially amidst the political transition our nation is currently in. Throughout the school year, administration and organizations will bring in guest speakers to talk about the importance of free speech and freedom of expression.

But while we were all so caught up in debating the rights protected under the First and Second Amendments, have we let our rights as consumers slip by?

Jason Abbott is the owner of Express Mobile Techs on Nine Mile Road. He said that years ago when you bought an electronic device, it came with a repair manual that explained how to fix it. Today, it doesn’t.

“When you buy a phone or a computer, you get a little tiny quick-start guide and that basically tells you to turn it on and that is it,” Abbott said.

Because of restrictions by cell phone manufacturers, there is a limit to how much repair shops can actually do for you these days. Photo by Shawna Moore

This is making jobs harder for small-business repair shops because Apple and other technology companies will not give out – or even sell – the information to the repair companies.

Repair shops have to find ways to reverse-engineer the cell phones in order to fix them, which takes a ton of time and parts.

John Deere has put out a statement about their products suggesting that consumers are not purchasing the product to own but purchasing only a license to use the product. In October, the company forced customers to sign a license agreement for embedded software in their farm equipment which forbids them from making basically any repairs or modifications.

When contacted, a John Deere employee declined to comment.

While John Deere does this and gets away with charging farmers $130 per hour to repair their tractors — something farmers used to be able to do on their own — Apple and other technology companies are causing consumers to typically buy replacement phones.

Think about it: how many friends or family  — or even yourself perhaps — have gotten new cell phones recently? Now, how many of those new phones were bought to replace phones that had recently broken? I myself recently had to get a new phone when my iPhone 6 stopped working.

When my phone first stopped working, I did what any sensible person would do: I went to get my cell phone repaired. After spending $70 on screen replacement, I was told that the screen was not the issue, but that my backlight was the issue and that my phone could not be fixed. Having to purchase a new cell phone cost a lot more than the $70 screen-replacement I was planning for. This was a financial burden and a time-consuming problem.

I am not the only student who has faced this problem. Senior legal studies major Villardia Philistin’s iPhone started glitching and shutting down randomly. This was frustrating to her amidst her preparation for graduation. Like myself, she also sought help from repair shops and even her cellular company. Nobody was able to restore her phone, and she had to get a new one.

There are many stories like Philistin’s. “Error 53” is an iPhone glitch that made its appearance when the iPhone 6 came out. This is essentially a glitch that would lock people out of their phones. There was no way around the block; even connecting to iTunes wouldn’t fix it. Because of this, many people lost their personal data stored on their phones, which included precious photos and memories. People were forced to completely restore their phones or – guess what — pay Apple to help.

This resulted in a class-action lawsuit, which was followed by Apple creating an update that allowed consumers to get around Error 53. However, Error 53 is still prelevant today. Abbott told me he had already had three customers bring in devices suffering from Error 53 by the time we met that day (two iPhone 7s and an iPad Pro).

Abbott said he understands the rules that Apple, John Deere and other technology companies have laid out for consumers. “Nobody reads the Terms and Conditions. When you buy a device nowadays, it is not really yours; you are just using it,” he said. “You paid for it, but at the end of the day they kind of own what is in it. They try to claim it as ‘intellectual property.’ ”

This is exactly what is happening with tractor companies across the nation. Many tractor companies are using software technology to lock farmers out of fixing their own machines. Farmers are now being forced to pay for and wait on a certified mechanic to come fix something they could normally fix on their own. Even after the machine is repaired, it still will not work without diagnosing the software. Companies are doing this “to keep the product running safe and smoothly,” but many feel that this is only a ploy to drain the consumers of every penny possible, even after the purchase (world’s finest example of capitalism).

Many farmers have turned to their lawmakers for help. The Right to Repair is a movement that now is sweeping the nation, its purpose being to protect your rights of owning the products you purchase.

This means that instead of having to call and pay the manufacturer to fix your injector on your tractor or replace your backlight on your cellphone, you can do it yourself. This means more money in your pocket, and less of the rich taking from you and using “security” as their weapon. After all, when the farmer has to pay more to grow the crops, what happens to the price of the crops?