By Lee Chi-ho

When your smartphone or some other electronic gadget gives up the ghost, what’s your first solution? Probably to buy a new one. But why, if it can be repaired.

“Electronic Right to Repair” is a movement pushing for legislation which would give buyers the ability to repair their electronic devices. We own the product so why are we unable to fix it when it malfunctions? Because many companies have implemented policies to prevent customers and shops from obtaining the necessary tools to perform repairs.

smartphone repair
Photo: Fairphone, via Flickr.

The campaign’s main objectives are to make information on software and parts publicly available, along with public information on the device, and a repair-friendly design. These objectives will combine to make our gadgets more repairable.

Companies like Apple have long been criticised for making devices that are difficult or even impossible for people outside the company to fix due to software locks and lack of information and parts. Apple even “bricked” independent-repair devices on the grounds that these are not authorised.

The company also invented a Pentalobe screw to make repairs by individuals much more difficult. Making the devices hard to repair or even unfixable will only maximise their profits.

This anti-consumer behaviour has affected many independent repair shops, even in Hong Kong, and many customers. The companies which have a monopoly on repairs charge a much higher price than small outlets.

Apple Inc
Apple. Photo: atmtx, via Flickr.

But why should we care about Right to Repair when we can simply buy a new device?

Well, the price of electronic devices rises every year, reaching well over HK$8,000 for a smartphone. Being able to repair an otherwise functional device brings big savings and less environmental waste.

How to support Right to Repair

Public awareness is of paramount importance. There are companies like iFixit and organisations such as The Repair Association, ECOS, and The Restart Project where more information on product repairability and companies’ track records can be found. Around the world, petitions are circulating in support of the movement. People can also seek more information on the movement and its impact on the tech industry, on themselves, the environment, and other issues. Only when the public understands the concept of Right to Repair will the issue be widely discussed and changes implemented.

smartphone repair
Photo: Marco Verch, via Flickr.

The public should avoid buying from companies which make planned-obsolescence products that are repair-unfriendly. Calls for boycotts have slowly forced such companies to listen to feedback and amend their designs to avoid losing sales.

Companies should ensure that all products are easy to repair, a move which would win them customer goodwill, long-term profitability, and positive publicity. They can also expect long-term revenue gain from improved customer satisfaction.

Legislation has been proposed in the United States and the European Union to require companies to provide the necessary tools and parts for individual repairs. Currently, more than 30 US states have started working on Right to Repair bills. Hong Kong can follow suit with legislation to ensure that our electronics are made to last.

This culture of unrepairable products needs to change and it starts with us taking action. Only when we boycott such anti-consumer behaviour will companies be forced to comply.

Lee Chi Ho is a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science student  at The University of Hong Kong

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