UK Right to Repair Law Leaves Out Smartphones and Laptops

The new law doesn't tackle the biggest known perpetrators of planned obsolescence.
Chris Young

A great deal of household electronics including fridges, washing machines, and TVs are now easier to repair in the United Kingdom thanks to a right to repair law that came into force yesterday, July 2, a BBC report explains.

The right to repair rules were put in place to increase the lifespan of products by up to 10 years in order to benefit the environment. Under the new law, manufacturers are now required to make spare parts for their products commercially available.

However, the law features two bizarre ommissions — the laptop and the smartphone.

Tackling e-waste and 'planned obsolescence'

The UK joins the European Union, which also set a bloc-wide right to repair law last year, and the New York Senate, which passed the Digital Fair Repair Act just last month.

All of these laws are aimed, in part, at tackling the problems of "planned obsolescence," which sees manufacturers build appliances knowing they will break down after a certain time, meaning consumers will have to buy a new one. By tackling the problem the laws will, by extension, also reduce e-waste.

The most high-profile case of planned obsolescence to date is that of Apple — last year, the company received a $27 million fine from France for spamming its older iPhones with updates, knowing it would substantially slow down the older models. 

Surprisingly, though Apple and other smartphone providers are the highest-profile known enactors of planned obsolescence, the UK's and the EU's right to repair laws both exclude smartphones and laptops from the equation.

Big tech versus the 'right to repair'

The New York Digital Fair Repair Act is the only one of the three to include the ubiquitous devices, with Senator Phil Boyle saying on the Senate floor that "people can repair their own computers, laptops, and smartphones... We don’t have to send them back to the manufacturers." 

The exclusion in the EU and the UK of smartphones and laptops is likely due to the power of companies such as Apple, and other massive smartphone firms such as Samsung.

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Right to repair laws have unsurprisingly seen pushback from big tech companies. AP News recently reported that TechNet, a trade group that lobbies for Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and other large tech firms has loudly opposed the right to repair bills.

Still, as Tech Republic pointed out in an article in March, the EU at least is aiming to rectify this problem by expanding its right to repair act to cover laptops and smartphones.

France, which is positioning itself as the world leader in big tech accountability, has also taken its own steps by making it a legal requirement for manufacturers to include "repairability scores," showing how easy it is to repair any of their devices.

A similar requirement for repair grades might soon be expanded to the rest of the European Union. The UK might no longer be part of the EU, but it would do well to follow suit.

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