Protocol | Policy

Khan’s FTC forges ahead to protect right to repair

It's committing to cracking down on anti-consumer and anti-competitive repair restrictions.

FTC chair Lina Khan speaks into a microphone.

FTC chair Lina Khan's set her sights on right to repair.

Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is taking steps to ensure consumers can repair their devices, including expensive farm equipment and hardware. The move comes as the agency's new chair, Lina Khan, takes a swing at Big Tech companies.

All five of the commissioners voted on Wednesday to issue a policy statement on repair restrictions as part of the agency's new series of open meetings. At Wednesday's meeting, the FTC's three Democrats also opened up a path to impose new disclosure and pre-approval requirements on companies that have previously pursued unlawful acquisitions.

While the development of new policy statements like the one on right-to-repair might seem like a small step, such statements tell businesses which actions the agency will allow and which it might try to stop.

"While efforts by dominant firms to restrict repair markets are not new, changes in technology and more prevalent use of software has created fresh opportunities for companies to limit independent repair," Khan said.

In May, the FTC told Congress in a report that there was "scant evidence to support manufacturers' justifications for repair restrictions" and suggested more "access to information, manuals, spare parts, and tools." A recent sweeping order from President Joe Biden also urged the FTC to issue rules boosting consumers' rights to repair devices and equipment themselves or at third-party repair shops.

In principle, manufacturers like Apple can't condition warranties on consumers' use of particular brands for repairs, but the FTC found in its report that manufacturers have used a variety of other techniques to effectively curb consumers' rights anyway. They have, for instance, imposed limits on sharing parts and information, steered consumers toward their own repair shops or partners, and enforced software rights.

Consumer groups have long argued that manufacturers' limits on users' ability to repair items drive up costs and force consumers to buy new products before their old ones break down. Manufacturers say they are trying to protect intellectual property and device integrity.

The policy statement said the FTC "will devote more enforcement resources to combat these practices" and look for violations of the laws on warranty requirements, deceptive practices and anti-competitive behavior.

Both Republican and Democratic commissioners celebrated the united vote. Following the adoption of the statement, some members of the public also applauded the decision, including the head of a group representing companies that service electronic devices.

"We've been waiting 25 years for today," said the group's president, Joe Marion.

During Wednesday's session, the FTC's three Democrats also voted to rescind a prior statement from 1995. In that statement, the FTC said it would largely stop imposing certain requirements on companies that settled with the agency after pursuing deals the FTC moved to stop.

Khan and her fellow Democratic commissioners, Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Slaughter, said that settlements that require companies to seek pre-approval for, or give notice of, certain future deals help save FTC resources and indicate which mergers it considers illegal. The Republican commissioners, Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, objected that rescinding the statement risked creating too many costs for businesses and discouraging legal mergers.

While much of the antitrust scrutiny on Big Tech has focused on the companies' conduct, the bread-and-butter of competition law actually focuses on deals, and there's been bipartisan interest in limiting the mergers and acquisitions that have allowed giant companies like Facebook and Amazon to grow to their current sizes.

The Wednesday changes come after a series of votes earlier in July, when the FTC, which has faced a series of stinging court losses recently, opened the way to pursue a broader range of competition cases and issue rules that govern entire sectors such as food-delivery apps.

Protocol | China

Beijing meets an unstoppable force: Chinese parents and their children

Live-in tutors disguised as nannies, weekday online tutoring classes and adult gaming accounts for rent. Here's how citizens are finding ways to skirt Beijing's diktats.

Citizens in China are experienced at cooking up countermeasures when Beijing or governments come down with rigid policies.

Photo: Liu Ying/Xinhua via Getty Images

During the summer break, Beijing handed down a parade of new regulations designed to intervene in youth education and entertainment, including a strike against private tutoring, a campaign to "cleanse" the internet and a strict limit on online game playing time for children. But so far, these seemingly iron-clad rules have met their match, with students and their parents quickly finding workarounds.

Grassroots citizens in China are experienced at cooking up countermeasures when Beijing or governments come down with rigid policies. Authorities then have to play defense, amending holes in their initial rules.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at shenlu@protocol.com.


Keep Reading Show less
Nasdaq
A technology company reimagining global capital markets and economies.
Protocol | Policy

Google and Microsoft are at it again, now over government software

The on-again, off-again battle between the two companies flared up again when Google commissioned a study on how much the U.S. government relies on Microsoft software.

Google and Microsoft are in a long-running feud that has once again flared up in recent months.

Photo: Jens Tandler/EyeEm/Getty Images

According to a new report commissioned by Google, Microsoft has an overwhelming "share in the U.S. government office productivity software market," potentially leading to security risks for local, state and federal governments.

The five-page document, released Tuesday by a trade group that counts Google as a member, represents the latest escalation between the two companies in a long-running feud that has once again flared up in recent months.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

People

Facebook wants to kill the family iPad

Facebook has built the first portable smart display, and is introducing a new household mode that makes it easier to separate work from play.

Facebook's new Portal Go device will go on sale for $199 in October.

Photo: Facebook

Facebook is coming for the coffee table tablet: The company on Tuesday introduced a new portable version of its smart display called Portal Go, which promises to be a better communal device for video calls, media consumption and many of the other things families use iPads for.

Facebook also announced a revamped version of its Portal Pro device Tuesday, and introduced a new household mode to Portals that will make it easier to share these devices with everyone in a home without having to compromise on working-from-home habits. Taken together, these announcements show that there may be an opening for consumer electronics companies to meet this late-pandemic moment with new device categories.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Protocol | Policy

The techlash is threatening human rights around the world

Some 48 countries introduced laws to regulate tech last year. But researchers say many of those laws are just attempts at censorship and surveillance.

In its latest report, Freedom House President Michael Abramowitz said, "We really see free expression and privacy as under unprecedented strain."

Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Governments around the world are seizing on widespread frustrations with Big Tech as justification for a spate of increasingly restrictive laws governing online speech, a new report finds, a trend that researchers say puts both free expression and the fate of tech companies' overseas employees at risk.

Over the last year alone, some 48 countries worldwide introduced — and in some cases, passed — laws to regulate tech companies, according to the latest report by Freedom House, a nonprofit that publishes an annual survey on internet freedoms in 70 countries. While those laws have often been passed in the name of promoting competition, protecting people's data and moderating offensive content, the report's authors say that, in many cases, these laws are merely thinly veiled attempts to force companies into censorship and surveillance.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Latest Stories