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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.

Power

Google wants to (try to) make Google Glass cool again

Also this week: savvy virtual assistants, surveillance without violating people's privacy, and more patents from Big Tech.

Is making these cool even possible?

Image: Google

This week was so full of fun patent applications that I didn't know where to start. We've got a throwback to 2013, a virtual assistant that knows when I've stopped talking, and headphones that can determine a user's hearing abilities.

But as always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

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J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

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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.

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