FTC Goes After Companies That Prevent Outside Repair Of Tech, Other Products

Brahm Buck

Topline The Federal Trade Commission will more aggressively police the makers of computers, phones and other products that prevent customers from repairing devices themselves or getting them repaired by third parties, the agency said Wednesday, in a unanimous vote it said will “restore the right to repair.” WASHINGTON, DC – […]

Topline

The Federal Trade Commission will more aggressively police the makers of computers, phones and other products that prevent customers from repairing devices themselves or getting them repaired by third parties, the agency said Wednesday, in a unanimous vote it said will “restore the right to repair.”

Key Facts

The commission voted 5-0 to prioritize investigating illegal restrictions on repairs for everything from phones to tractors to ventilators.

When companies block outside repairs, it makes products more expensive and “close[s] off” competition from outside repair shops, said new FTC chair Lina Khan.

The commission said it may seek court orders to prevent companies from illegally threatening to void warranties if customers don’t get them fixed by the manufacturer or a company tied to them.

Crucial Quote

“This isn’t just about saving money,” said commissioner Rohit Chopra in remarks prepared for the vote. “When laws go unenforced, we weaken our country by making us less resilient and less able to meet our basic needs.” A laptop shortage during the pandemic, which left some kids without a way to log on for remote school, was made worse because of restrictions on where schools could get computers fixed, he said. “[W]e heard about hospitals worried that they would be unable to fix a ventilator because a manufacturer was seeking to deny access to repair it.”

Key Background

The policy is a victory for the “right to repair” movement, which has tried to pass laws, mostly at the state level, to force makers of computers, phones and other products to sell parts and share repair information with outside shops. Companies including Apple have lobbied against those laws, which would cut into their repair business. But refusing to sell parts and designing products so they can’t be safely repaired by outside shops already violates the Sherman Antitrust Act, according to the FTC. Its new policy says the commission will “scrutinize” companies’ restrictions on outside repairs to see if they violate antitrust laws or the FTC’s law against “deceptive acts or practices.”

Big Number

1. That’s how many times in the last decade that the FTC has gone after a company for breaking the law against tying a customer’s warranty to getting the product fixed at a manufacturer-approved shop. They settled with BMW in 2015 after the company agreed to tell buyers of its MINI cars that they could get their car serviced outside the dealer without harming the car or voiding their warranty.

Further Reading

FTC to Ramp Up Law Enforcement Against Illegal Repair Restrictions (Federal Trade Commission)

Amazon Wants New FTC Head Removed From Antitrust Investigations Of Company (Forbes)

Facebook Wins Antitrust Lawsuits — At Least For Now (Forbes)

Biden Nominates Big Tech Critic Lina Khan To Federal Trade Commission (Forbes)

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