Are we entering the era of right-to-repair when it comes to technology?

The right-to-repair movement has started to make progress.

Are we entering the era of right-to-repair when it comes to technology?
A new disassembled phone Nokia G22 is displayed at GSMA's 2023 ahead of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain February 26, 2023. REUTERS/Albert Gea

The backstory: “Right-to-repair” is the idea that you should be able to access the tools, parts and information to repair something you own, specifically technology. There’s a growing right-to-repair movement pushing for laws requiring that consumers have this access because, especially with modern tech, they often have to take their devices back to the manufacturer to have them repaired or replaced since they don’t have the info or tools to do it themselves or choose a third-party to help. Devices nowadays just aren’t designed to be repaired, which means more tech waste as people replace them instead of fixing them.

More recently: The right-to-repair movement has started to make progress. In 2021, France passed a law to make tech companies show – next to the price tag – how repairable their phones are on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0. These scorecards have influenced consumer behavior. That same year, Apple finally released information for consumers on how to repair its devices. And in 2022, the European Parliament voted 509-3 to ask the EU to force manufacturers to make devices more repairable. Of course, tech companies have pushed back, arguing that making repair info and tools more readily available could become a security issue. But many cybersecurity experts disagree with these claims.

The development: Nokia just announced a new smartphone that users can repair themselves. What’s different about the Nokia G22 is its outer shell and its inner workings. The recyclable plastic back can be taken off, and the user can replace the phone’s back cover, battery, screen and charging port themselves. With this, Nokia is upping the ante, proving that it’s possible and maybe even profitable for a decent smartphone to be made with repairability in mind. This device isn’t perfect (it’s not waterproof), but it’s a step in the right direction.  

Key comments:

“These companies have known these were issues for a long time, and until we organized enough clout for it to start seeming inevitable, none of the big ones had particularly good repair programs and now they’re all announcing them,” Nathan Proctor, director of the Campaign for the Right to Repair at the US Public Interest Research Group, said.

“As consumers increasingly demand more sustainable and longer-lasting devices, the ability to repair smartphones easily and affordably will become a key differentiator in the market,” said Ben Wood, lead analyst at CCS Insight.

“Allowing unvetted third parties with access to sensitive diagnostic information, software, tools, and parts would jeopardize the safety of consumers’ computers, tablets, and devices and put them at risk for fraud and data theft,” said industry trade group TechNet in a statement.