Apple Tells Lawmaker that Right to Repair iPhones Will Turn Nebraska Into a ‘Mecca’ for Hackers
Inside Apple's absurd lobbying strategy.
Image: Andrew Mager/Flickr
Apple is inventing new and interesting arguments to prevent you from fixing your iPhone: It's lobbying Nebraska lawmakers to kill "right to repair" legislation, telling them unauthorized repair will turn the state into a "mecca" for hackers.
Right to repair bills, which are currently making their way through eight states (Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, Wyoming, Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois, and Massachusetts), would require electronics manufacturers to make repair parts and diagnostic and repair manuals available to independent repair professionals and consumers, not just "authorized" repair companies. Electronics right to repair legislation is modeled on a 2012 Massachusetts law that preserved the right to repair cars.
The most logical reason for manufacturers to oppose the bills is that it would democratize the repair economy, making it possible for consumers to fix their own things and cutting into the profits of repairs done at, for example, the Apple store.
"They said that doing this would make it very easy for hackers to relocate to Nebraska."
But the prospect of a Cupertino-based megacorporation losing business to local repair shops isn't a very sympathetic argument at the Nebraska statehouse. And so Apple has tried a slew of other tactics, according to state Sen. Lydia Brasch, who was recently visited by Steve Kester, an Apple state government affairs specialist.
"Apple said we would be the only state that would pass this, and that we would become the mecca for bad actors," Brasch, who is sponsoring the bill, told me in a phone call. "They said that doing this would make it very easy for hackers to relocate to Nebraska."
Brasch, a farmer who also works remotely for a software company in Atlanta, Georgia, has a background in computer science and said Kester wasn't prepared for her to defend the bill she's sponsored.
"I think they were surprised to learn I've worked in the technology field the last 15 years even though I'm a farmer," she said.
"They said just take out the 'phone' part of the bill and we'll go away"
Right to repair bills in each state require manufacturers to provide software tools to bypass locks that prevent repair. For example, John Deere tractors contain software that prevent even basic repairs unless "authorized" by the company. Last year, a software update to iOS caused Apple's infamous "Error 53," which bricked iPhones that had been repaired by consumers or independent repair shops. Apple did not respond to a request for comment, and Kester, reached by phone, told me he is not authorized to speak to the press.
"The rationale is that an independent mechanic ought to be able to bypass things like Error 53 that are designed to prevent repair," Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, told me. "If you look, the same exact text is in the Massachusetts auto right to repair law, and it's not causing car thefts or hackers to move to Massachusetts."
Kester was joined by Alexi Madon of CompTIA, a trade organization that nominally represents repair professionals (it stewards the A+ computer repair certification) but has, in recent years, partnered with Apple and other electronics manufacturers.
Brasch said the representatives made two other main arguments: They said repair could cause lithium batteries to catch fire, and said that there are already enough authorized places to get iPhones repaired, such as the Apple store.
"When you're talking about safety, there's a greater chance I'll fall down and hit my head. I told them until you have an app that defies gravity, I don't think we have to worry about safety. There's always a risk and there's always a disclaimer," she said. "I have an Apple computer and to get it repaired, I have to bring it to Omaha and I have to make an appointment with a Genius on their schedule. Omaha is 80 minutes from here and there's no Best Buy in a town of 600."
Brasch told me she primarily proposed the legislation because farmers have been inconvenienced by John Deere's "authorized" repair requirements, which has taken a self-reliant profession and forced them to get even simple repairs done by John Deere's dealers. But she realizes she's hit a nerve with electronics companies, too.
"They said just take out the 'phone' part of the bill and we'll go away," Brasch said. "That's tempting, but we need to repair consumer technology too. The story they're telling is that we need to be afraid of technology. You don't have to be afraid of technology—you have to be afraid of the people who are trying to prevent you from knowing the things they know. Are these companies in it for the greater good, or the greater dollar?"