Oregon soon It has become the latest state to pass a Right to Repair Act. Last month, Google offered its support in an open letter calling Senate Bill 1596 “a compelling model for other states to follow.” The bill, sponsored by a sextet of state senators and representatives, is inspired in part by California SB 244, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in October.
Apple has publicly backed that bill — a rare nod from a tech giant that likes to play close to the vest. However, Cupertino was less enthusiastic about some of the inclusions in the Oregon law that were not in the California law.
“Apple agrees with the overwhelming majority of Senate Bill 1596,” John Perry, Apple's senior manager, secure system design, said in testimony to state lawmakers this week. “I have met Senator (Janeen) Solman many times and appreciate her willingness to engage in open dialogue. Senate Bill 1596 is a step forward in ensuring that Oregonians, including myself, can easily and cost effectively repair their equipment.
Apple's main sticking point with the proposed legislation centers around an approach known as “parts paring.” Both iFixit and PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) have criticized this approach, which requires the use of first-party parts in the repair process. PIRG, which petitioned the FTC for a ban on the practice late last year, called it “one of the most harmful barriers to the right to repair.”
Apple, in turn, strongly defends this practice, insisting that the use of third-party components poses a security problem for users.
“It is our belief that the bill's current language about component pairing undermines the safety, security and privacy of Oregonians by forcing device manufacturers to use parts of unknown origin in consumer devices,” Perry said. “It's important to understand why Apple and other smartphone manufacturers use component pairing. Not to make the repair more difficult. Essentially, it's about making access to repair easier, while keeping your device — and the data stored on it — safe. Pairing parts helps ensure proper performance of your device and safe operation after repairing critical components such as the battery.
Shortly after the California bill was passed, iFixit highlighted in a New York Times piece that “seven iPhone components could trigger problems during repairs.” That number is double the three identified in 2017 and “marks an increase of approximately 20% year-on-year since 2016, when only one repair caused the problem.”
The paper continues: “New batteries can trigger warning messages, replacement screens can disable the phone's brightness settings, and replacement selfie cameras can't work.”
An element of the bill identified by Apple reads in part:
The original equipment manufacturer shall make available to the owner or independent repair provider, on fair and reasonable terms and documentation, the tool or component necessary to disable and reset any electronic security lock or other security function on consumer electronic equipment. User must reset when diagnosing, maintaining or repairing electronic equipment.
. . .
Original equipment manufacturers may not use part pairing to: (A) prevent or prevent an independent repair provider or owner from installing or enabling the performance of a replacement part or part of consumer electronic equipment. Manufacturer not approved; (B) reduce functionality or performance of consumer electronic equipment; or (C) causes consumer electronic equipment to display unnecessary or misleading warnings or warnings about unidentified components, especially if the warnings or warnings are not removed.
In a recent conversation with TechCrunch, co-sponsor Senator Solman recounted closed-door meetings where Apple discussed its concerns over the provision of pairing components, expressing frustration, calling the hardware giant “very private” in its handling of the bill.
“People were coming to me with potential changes, and I felt like I was playing the operator game, that I was the one who had to push the changes and not Apple,” Solman said. “It's very disappointing. We entertained many of the changes that Apple brought forward in the California bill. There are a couple of things left about them. We've addressed one of them because it adds some ambiguity to the bill. And I think one part . . . they stand on the hill where the parts are attached.
In his testimony, Perry expressed specific concern over biometric sensors — a category that includes things like fingerprint readers and face ID cameras.
“The current wording of SB 1596 would require Apple to allow third-party biometric sensors to operate on our devices without any authentication, which could lead to unauthorized access to an individual's personal data,” the Apple employee stated. “This is an incredible disservice to consumers not only in Oregon, but around the world, because we do not have the ability to limit such regulations regionally.”
Certainly the concerns cited by Perry could potentially apply to the “alternative selfie cameras” suggested in the Times piece.
For his part, Senator Solman refers to the pairing of parts as “anti-consumer.”
“I'm not trying to stick it (the apple) or anything,” she said. “I'm trying to make it user-friendly and that's how we work. I think we're at that place with Google, and I believe others will (go public) soon. I think Apple will stand strong in pairing their parts, because in the US it's not removable.” A unique approach.