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.


Why foundation models in AI need to be released responsibly

Foundation models like GPT-3 and DALL-E are changing AI forever. We urgently need to develop community norms that guarantee research access and help guide the future of AI responsibly.

Releasing new foundation models doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.

Illustration: sorbetto/DigitalVision Vectors

Percy Liang is director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a faculty affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI and an associate professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Humans are not very good at forecasting the future, especially when it comes to technology.

Keep Reading Show less
Percy Liang
Percy Liang is Director of the Center for Research on Foundation Models, a Faculty Affiliate at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI, and an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.

The West’s drought could bring about a data center reckoning

When it comes to water use, data centers are the tech industry’s secret water hogs — and they could soon come under increased scrutiny.

Lake Mead, North America's largest artificial reservoir, has dropped to about 1,052 feet above sea level, the lowest it's been since being filled in 1937.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The West is parched, and getting more so by the day. Lake Mead — the country’s largest reservoir — is nearing “dead pool” levels, meaning it may soon be too low to flow downstream. The entirety of the Four Corners plus California is mired in megadrought.

Amid this desiccation, hundreds of the country’s data centers use vast amounts of water to hum along. Dozens cluster around major metro centers, including those with mandatory or voluntary water restrictions in place to curtail residential and agricultural use.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).


Indeed is hiring 4,000 workers despite industry layoffs

Indeed’s new CPO, Priscilla Koranteng, spoke to Protocol about her first 100 days in the role and the changing nature of HR.

"[Y]ou are serving the people. And everything that's happening around us in the world is … impacting their professional lives."

Image: Protocol

Priscilla Koranteng's plans are ambitious. Koranteng, who was appointed chief people officer of Indeed in June, has already enhanced the company’s abortion travel policies and reinforced its goal to hire 4,000 people in 2022.

She’s joined the HR tech company in a time when many other tech companies are enacting layoffs and cutbacks, but said she sees this precarious time as an opportunity for growth companies to really get ahead. Koranteng, who comes from an HR and diversity VP role at Kellogg, is working on embedding her hybrid set of expertise in her new role at Indeed.

Keep Reading Show less
Amber Burton

Amber Burton (@amberbburton) is a reporter at Protocol. Previously, she covered personal finance and diversity in business at The Wall Street Journal. She earned an M.S. in Strategic Communications from Columbia University and B.A. in English and Journalism from Wake Forest University. She lives in North Carolina.


New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Latest Stories