Today, with our friends at the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), we’re calling on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to introduce new Right to Repair rules.
In the United States, the FTC is the strongest organization of consumer protection. They’re responsible for fining Facebook $5 billion for privacy violations, getting scam robocallers to return what they’ve stolen, and shutting down pyramid schemes.
Plus, they’ve been an enormous help in our fight for the Right to Repair. In 2019, they investigated the arguments for and against the Right to Repair, collecting as much evidence from as many sources as they could. They released their findings in a 2021 report called Nixing the Fix, which concluded that there is “scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.” They also testified about those findings in a hearing for the California Right to Repair bill that was signed into law last month, and Chair Lina Khan spoke at the White House convening on Right to Repair.
We’ve just submitted a petition for rulemaking, which asks the FTC to introduce new rules protecting our right to fix everything we own.
FTC Says: “‘Warranty Void If Removed’ Stickers Are Illegal”
In 2021, President Biden called on the FTC to do more to enforce the Right to Repair, and they responded with a series of big enforcement actions. Contrary to popular belief, it has been illegal to void a warranty for DIY or independent repair since 1975. So the FTC took action against Harley-Davidson, Weber, and Westinghouse for saying in their manuals that customers must use manufacturers’ own repair services, which violated the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
Your regular reminder: If you see a “warranty void” sticker or a manufacturer tells you that independent repair voided your warranty, you can report it to the FTC’s fraud team here. If you’re in the US, you are allowed to open up your own stuff, and manufacturers can’t void a warranty if you break the seal on a device! (The story’s a little different outside the US, as Noah explored here.)
But the FTC can only take action on something if they’ve got relevant rules in place. And a lot of the things that manufacturers are doing to block repair are new enough that the FTC never ruled against those things before—like using proprietary screws and parts pairing software blocks to make repair more difficult.
What Do We Want? More Rules Protecting Repair!
So today, we’re submitting a petition to the FTC asking for them to engage in a rulemaking process to create new Right to Repair rules to deal with these new blocks that manufacturers have put in place. Specifically, we’re asking that they consider rules that would address the following reasonable consumer expectations of repair:
- Consumable components ought to be replaceable and readily available throughout a product’s usable lifespan.
- Components that commonly break ought to be replaceable and readily available as repair parts.
- Consumers ought to be able to choose to take damaged products to a repair shop of their choice, or perform a repair themselves.
- When a manufacturer discontinues support for a product, its key functions ought to remain intact, and an independent repair shop ought to be able to continue to perform repairs.
- Identical components from two identical devices ought to be interchangeable without manufacturer intervention.
- Independent repair shops ought not be required to report customers’ personally identifiable information to the manufacturer.
We also are suggesting that they develop a repairability scoring system, which in the case of appliances covered by the FTC-administered Energy Guide program, could go on that yellow label that appliances must have. After all, the energy impact of an appliance has at least as much to do with how long it lasts (and how easily it can be repaired) as with its energy consumption during use.
France has seen much success with their repairability scoring system—which 80% of consumers say they would use to choose a more-repairable product even over their favorite brand. The EU is developing an EU-wide repairability scoring system, and Belgium and Taiwan also have plans in the works.
“We live in a world surrounded by things that should last and be fixable, but instead, end up thrown away too soon,” said PIRG Right to Repair Campaign Director Nathan Proctor. “As the FTC and others have noted, that drains our wallets, fuels an electronic waste crisis and undermines local repair shop businesses. The FTC clearly plays a role in fixing these problems, allowing us to fix our modern devices.”
When Do We Want ‘Em? Sometime in the Next Few Years!
If the FTC takes up this petition, they will initiate a rulemaking process (or perhaps several). Rulemaking processes take a while: They announce advance notice of a proposed rulemaking. Then they actually propose a rulemaking. Then they make the rule. During this process, there are three opportunities for the public and other stakeholders to weigh in. We’ll keep you posted.
Once there’s a rule, the FTC can enforce it in the way they’ve pursued actions against Harley and Weber for “warranty void” violations.
All that is to say, it will be at least a few years before we can expect to see results of this rulemaking petition—but if the long arm of history bends toward justice, consider this a request for the FTC to stretch its arm out.