Internal Documents Suggest Apple is Preparing to Comply With Right to Repair Legislation

BY Evan Selleck

Published 28 Mar 2019

Many have been demanding legislators across the United States to implement right to repair legislation, which would make it easier for device owners to repair their devices.

But some companies have been resistant to this idea. Apple, unfortunately, is one of them. The company has long fought such legislation, preferring instead to rein in repair work to its own physical stores and authorized repair shops. But it looks like that while Apple has fought back against the idea, it may be concerned it’s losing that fight. As a result, Apple could be preparing to comply with any future right to repair legislation that falls into place in the future.

According to documentation dated from April 2018 obtained by Motherboard, Apple has been implementing plans in the background that seem dangerously close to complying with rules that right to repair legislation would impose. That includes giving some repair companies access to official Apple diagnostic software and tools, a host of genuine Apple-branded repair parts, training, and even “no restrictions” on “types of repairs that independent companies are allowed to do”.

As it turns out, this is what a lot of folks who have been fighting for the right to repair legislation have been looking for. Broadening the repair process.

“This looks to me like a framework for complying with right to repair legislation,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit and a prominent member of the right to repair movement, told me on the phone. “Right now, they are only offering it to a few megachains, but it seems clear to me that it would be totally possible to comply with right to repair.”

As mentioned above, Apple has been fighting these potential bills for years. Just look back to 2017 where Apple was fighting a right to repair bill in Nebraska. At the time, Apple lobbyists told legislators in that state that the proposed changes for repairs would make Nebraska a “mecca” for hackers and “bad actors”. And it’s happened recently, too, as the original report outlines:

“A letter obtained by Motherboard that was sent last month to a Georgia lawmaker by 17 trade organizations that represent consumer tech, video game, wireless, home appliance, and air conditioning companies (including Apple) says that right to repair legislation “threatens consumer security and safety” and “stifles innovation.””

It’s worth noting that while the internal documentation that outlines Apple’s plans does not explicitly name any companies that will be getting this type of repair rules. However, it does note that there are over 3,700 Apple Authorized Service Providers, so there appears to be plenty to choose from. And if this is indeed a means to prepare for right to repair legislation across the United States, we could see these new repair rules gradually rollout to all of those repair shops over time.

As it stands right now, these changes would more than likely be a welcomed one, both for consumers and repair shops. Even authorized third-party repair centers are ordered to send in devices that require more challenging repairs, which can make the process take quite a bit longer.

“Apple authorized technicians can switch out screens and batteries and they essentially can’t do anything else,” Nathan Proctor, who is leading consumer rights group US PIRG’s right to repair campaign, told me on the phone. “Reversing that policy to let them do more standard repairs is a step toward right to repair and evidence that the people working on this issue have forced them to change.”

Interestingly, the presentation itself that the original report cites suggests that Apple has decided, after many years, that people outside of Apple can fully understand the iPhone repair process now. Apple has long stood by the claim that iPhone repair is “too complex” to simply open up the repair process to just anyone. But, according to the report, the presentation reveals that Apple “notes that people outside of Apple are perfectly capable of doing good repair work. It says that independent repair companies will “own [their] customer” and that “you stand behind your workmanship”.

The belief here appears to be that Apple is negotiating behind-the-scenes to get the legislation and public opinion to drop away, essentially by rolling out the oft-requested changes on its own terms. Albeit gradually. This isn’t unlike Apple’s strategy with potential repair issues in its device lineup. Apple, for instance, still hasn’t actually said anything about the “Flexgage” issue and stage-lighting effect on some MacBook Pro models. But that didn’t stop the company from making a hardware tweak to address it, though.

Our Take

It feels like public attention for right to repair wanes and surges at random times. It’s an obviously serious issue, which is obvious since Apple appears to be addressing it from the shadows. But at least the company is making changes in the right direction?

We Want To Hear From You

So, what do you think? Should Apple keep fighting legislation of this nature, even as it works behind-the-scenes to comply with the same potential bills?

[via Motherboard]