Microsoft recently submitted comments in opposition to right to repair. | VDB Photos/Shutterstock

In comments to federal regulators, Microsoft recently explained why the company might choose repair-hampering design factors when developing its products.

“Designs or policies that may appear to limit self-repair or repair by an unauthorized agent should not be assumed to be harmful to consumers,” the company wrote in testimony to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The comments were submitted in advance of an FTC-hosted event titled Nixing the Fix: A Workshop on Repair Restrictions. This meeting, which will take place July 16, features a handful of speakers familiar with e-scrap and repairability, including representatives from The Repair Association, iFixit, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and others.

Microsoft was the only electronics company that submitted comments in opposition to right to repair. While repair advocates have been vocal in support of state legislation that would force OEMs to provide information, parts and tools to enable independent repair of their electronics, brand owners’ opposition has been largely channeled through lobbying and public comments from industry groups.

The agenda for the July 16 workshop includes debate and discussion topics related to repairability and the right-to-repair movement. Besides Microsoft, a number of individuals and industry groups submitted comments before the meeting. And organizations including repair groups and e-scrap processor HOBI International were among those that submitted documents to be considered empirical research for the meeting.

Weighing multiple demands

Microsoft’s thesis is that the FTC should consider repairability in the context of numerous competing factors in device design.

“A wide variety of design choices that are made to meet consumer demands and market requirements may incidentally affect device repairability, but such design features serve other important purposes and should not be evaluated solely as ‘repair restrictions’ in isolation from other design-related demands,” Microsoft wrote.

As an example, the company describes its use of batteries installed with adhesives rather than removable screws. In order to maximize battery life, Microsoft uses flexible pouch-style lithium-ion batteries, which have to be affixed using adhesive. Moving to a rigid battery type that could be attached with screws would increase repairability but would reduce battery life because the rigid batteries would have less energy capacity, the company says. Microsoft estimates an average reduction of “up to 1.4 hours for the average user.”

Adhesives, which cause numerous problems for repair firms trying to remove batteries, are also favored over screws because they are more durable, Microsoft states. And adhesives help the company “meet consumer demand for a high-quality, tactile and ‘solid’ product feel by preventing internal components from rattling within the casing,” the company notes.

Learn more in person

Repair-related policy will be a major point of discussion at the 2019 E-Scrap Conference and Trade Show. The conference sessions will feature top executives from refurb companies, device manufacturers, industry groups and other entities engaged in the ongoing debate. The event is taking place September 23-25 at the Hilton Orlando in Orlando, Fla. Go to the conference website to learn more and register.

Microsoft argues that any government regulation of device design elements will reduce competition and stifle innovation.

Data security concerns

Designing a device for greater repairability can inadvertently open up the product to security breaches, Microsoft claims.

“The unauthorized repair and replacement of device components can result in the disabling of key hardware security features or can impede the update of firmware that is important to device security or system integrity,” the company wrote.

To protect device security, Microsoft says its products must be “serviced by knowledgeable, trained professionals who understand how to repair products without disabling the hardware and software features that protect the device from external security threats.”

Furthermore, the OEM says it’s risky for consumers to take their devices to non-Microsoft-authorized repair providers, who could steal personally identifiable information from their products.

“Users have little visibility into or control over what independent or unauthorized third (party) repair providers might do with their devices,” the company wrote.

SecuRepairs.org, a platform for information security professionals in support of right-to-repair, wrote a response arguing against Microsoft’s claims about device security threats from third-party repair. SecuRepairs.org will be featured during the FTC event.

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