Thursday, Jul 22, 2021, 18:30 Economy

A Unanimous Decision From The FTC – Apple's Repair Policy Could Land The Company In Some Trouble

In May, The United States' Federal Trade Commission (perhaps the most powerful trade and anti-trust commission in the world) began a study concerning the repair policies of large suppliers. Amongst other things, the commission took a close look at how manufacturers handle customers' defective products. The unsurprising verdict? Not always very fairly, and often in a monopolizing manner. In response to the FTC's recent study, US President Biden has ordered the commission to create new regulations. One of the measures' largest purposes will be to prevent companies' attempts to thwart "the right to repair" movement – which advocates for third party manufacturers and non-company affiliated repairmen and computer shops.

FTC Announcement: Concrete Measures Are On The Way
The FTC has now met a bipartisan decision to craft measures and regulations against monopolizing behaviour on the part of big tech companies in the matter at hand. Thus far, tech companies have more or less been able to restrict access to original parts thanks to large patent collections reinforced by legal departments – which have served as their treasure trove in the matter at hand. Small third party suppliers or repair shops offering replacement parts without the company's blessing often found themselves met with expensive lawsuits.



Apple Will Have To Clean Up Its Behaviour
Although the measures in question aren't directed against only Apple, Cupertino could end up being the main party affected. Multiple points of critique within the report are directed at the Mac/iPhone manufacturer. The FTC report took issue with the fact that external repair shops could only receive replacement parts from Apple under complex licensing conditions. Apple's "Independent Repair Program" is an example of this – and although the registration seems simple enough on paper, in practice, however, it's extremely convoluted. Such behaviour, as well as deliberately depriving third-party repair shops of adequate replacement parts, is a pretty glaring issue according to the FTC. It leads not only to a price distortion for replacement parts since there's absolutely zero competition for parts (as that process is artificially stymied by the companies in question), it often leads to customers paying far more for repairs than necessary or simply to spend even more money and to buy a new device since the price of the repair is already so high.

Apple's Allegedly "Independent" Repair Program
A quick look at the conditions for participation in Apple's Independent Repair Program reveals that the program isn't all that "independent". Amongst other things, surprise inspections are included, along with the seizure of materials, and a ban on "forbidden replacement parts". Those who repair iPhones along with smartphones from other companies can even find themselves subject to the aforementioned clause simply due to having parts for smartphones from other companies on hand. In addition, participation requires access to all customer data, including, names, addresses, and phone numbers. Whereas Apple openly advertises its public stance as "for data protection and privacy", the contrary is clearly quite the case in this situation.

Customers Should Have Better Access To Repairs
It's not yet known when the FTC will be able to bring the new measures and regulations to the table. However, despite all of big tech's massive efforts and lobbying campaigns to stifle the "Right to Repair" movement, it's starting to look as if the big guys might finally face some consequences. For the FTC, this is no longer a matter to consider, rather one requiring concrete action. The recent investigation has changed things considerably and big tech can no longer rely on being handled with kid gloves. For customers, the new regulations will mean more options and competition for repairs – all at a lower price.

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