Consumers just gained more power over the products they buy.
On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) informed consumer technology companies that those “warranty void if removed” labels on gadgets aren’t OK. It’s a win for the “Right to Repair” movement, which advocates for individuals to be able to fix their products wherever they wish to — not just with a product’s original manufacturers.
“Provisions that tie warranty coverage to the use of particular products or services harm both consumers who pay more for them as well as the small businesses who offer competing products and services,” Thomas B. Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, said in a statement.
If you’re not familiar with these stickers, they are adhesive labels that many companies add to game consoles, phones, and even cars. They will be placed over a seal or a screw that a would-be-repairer would need to open in order to access and repair the guts of the product. So any attempt at repairing the product would be disclosed by a ripped label.
Manufacturers want to keep their customers from self-repairing or repairing with a 3rd party shop. By restricting the terms of the warranty, they ensure that customers spend their repair dollars with them, the original manufacturers.
But thanks to the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, the FTC now says that this isn’t OK. The act states that companies must honor warranties, unless the company offers replacement parts for free, or has received a special exception. So a sticker that voids a warranty is illegal.
The FTC reportedly sent letters informing companies of this policy standpoint to six major tech companies “that market and sell automobiles, cellular devices, and video gaming systems in the United States,” though it has not revealed the companies it has specifically contacted. But companies like Apple may be affected, considering the extent to which Apple has opposed Right to Repair legislation in the past.
Contacted companies will have 30 days to review promotional and warranty materials, and “revise its practices to comply with the law.” Then, the FTC make come knocking with “law enforcement action.” Yikes.
So, for screwdriver-happy tinkerers: tinker on.