Tech Company Influence Watered Down New York’s Electronics Repair Law
Maddie Stone, Grist:
The passage of the Digital Fair Repair Act last June reportedly caught the tech industry off guard, but it had time to act before Governor Kathy Hochul would sign it into law. Corporate lobbyists went to work, pressing Albany for exemptions and changes that would water the bill down. They were largely successful: While the bill Hochul signed in late December remains a victory for the right-to-repair movement, the more corporate-friendly text gives consumers and independent repair shops less access to parts and tools than the original proposal called for. (The state Senate still has to vote to adopt the revised bill, but it’s widely expected to do so.)
Hochul’s office sent TechNet’s revised draft to repair advocates to get their reaction. Those advocates shared the TechNet-edited version of the bill with Fahy’s staff, which gave it to the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, the agency charged with protecting American consumers. Documents that Repair.org shared with Grist show that FTC staff were highly critical of many of the changes. The parts assembly provision, one commission staffer wrote in response to TechNet’s edits, “could be easily abused by a manufacturer” to create a two-tiered system in which individual components like batteries are available only to authorized repair partners. Another of TechNet’s proposed changes — deleting a requirement that manufacturers give owners and independent shops the ability to reset security locks in order to conduct repairs — could result in a “hollow right to repair” in which security systems thwart people from fixing their stuff, the staffer wrote.
TechNet is an industry lobbying group with members like Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Samsung.
I do not think the concerns raised by TechNet should be dismissed out of hand as simple influence peddling. There are real security and privacy concerns if it is possible to disable lockout features, even if it is being done with the best of intentions and with full permission. But there ought to be a solution; I think John Bumstead’s idea is worth considering. Security risks should not be used as a convenient excuse for restricting third-party repairability.