The EU wants you to have the ‘right to repair’ your electronic devices

Digital freedomTips & tricks
2 mins
Band-aid over a phone with the EU logo.

This post was originally published on March 27, 2020.

If you’re frustrated at not being able to switch batteries in your older generation iPhone, or not being able to update your classic click-wheel iPod, we have some good news for you.

The European Union is planning to roll out sweeping measures that would require manufacturers to make it easier for you to upgrade and repair your devices on your own, instead of having to replace them with brand new phones and tablets.

The proposed measures are the latest in a series of policies the EU is implementing under its ambitious “Green Deal” which aims to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050.

What is the “right to repair”?

Put simply, the “right to repair” describes legislation born from public demands to repair their own devices.

This right gives consumers the prerogative to fix and upgrade their own devices without having to rely on an Apple Store or licensed retailer. As it stands right now, consumers can only resort to these official outlets or face the possibility of trashing their devices for a new one.

As the device repair wiki iFixit puts it, these demands include the right to:

  • Fix our own things or choose which service shop to use
  • Manuals and diagnostic tools the dealers use
  • Unlock and jailbreak the software on our devices

If passed, these right to repair measures would generate less electronic waste, and increase the volume of devices that can be recycled—currently the EU recycles less than 40% of its electronics.

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In terms of tangible changes, the European commission would extend their eco-design law to cover electronic smart devices, smartphones, tablets and laptops, and set technical standards that would ensure all device parts are repairable.

This could include mandating a common device charger, like USB-C, which would make Apple’s lightning cables redundant. The EU has also introduced “right to repair” rules for home appliances to be in place by 2021.

Apple complains, claims standard-setting “stifles innovation”

Apple has made it incredibly difficult for users to get access to parts to fix their own devices. To its credit, Apple has started to slowly roll  out a new program that grants independent repair shops access to Apple parts to help customers repair their devices.

But these measures  have thrown a new spanner in the works for Apple’s Lightning charging cables, which Apple claims would “stifle innovation” if it had to conform to EU guidelines.

There is also the issue of ensuring that both software and hardware meet privacy and security standards on top of the standards that allow them to be repaired or recycled.

Try your hand at repairing some old tech

The rules are still being hammered out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start dabbling in DIY fixes on your own devices. iFixit has a wealth of instructions on how to repair almost everything, from old iPods to game consoles and hundreds of other appliances. Maybe it’s time to get tinkering.

Ceinwen focused on digital privacy, censorship, and surveillance, and has interviewed leading figures in tech.