Tamper resistant stickers that prevent consumers from opening their electronics violate federal law.
The Xbox One S, Microsoft's new, sleeker version of the Xbox One has one of the same problems as the original version: It has a tamper-resistant sticker on it designed to alert Microsoft if an owner has opened up the console. And just like with the original Xbox One, Microsoft uses this sticker to void warranties, a practice that is against federal law.
As I reported in June, electronics manufacturers who void warranties for the mere act of opening a machine are violating the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975, which forbids manufacturers from forcing consumers to use certain parts or authorized repair professionals in order to maintain the warranty.
Microsoft's Xbox One warranty states that it "does not apply" if the Xbox is "opened, modified, or tampered with," or is "repaired by anyone other than Microsoft." As seen in an iFixit teardown of the Xbox One S, Microsoft placed a sticker on the back of the console above a clip that holds two pieces of the machine together. The sticker must be removed to open the console.
"The stickers could be deceptive by implying consumers can't use parts the warrantor doesn't pre-approve, which violates the anti-tying provisions of MMWA," Frank Dorman, a spokesperson for the Federal Trade Commission, which handles MMWA cases, told me for that article.
That warranty language and the sticker itself violates the MMWA. In a nutshell, manufacturers cannot predicate a warranty on its customers not opening up the device. By law, product owners are allowed to open their products, can make modifications to them, and are allowed to use third party replacement parts. If the modifications they make break something within the product, the manufacturer isn't required to fix it as part of the warranty, but the manufacturer must prove that the modifications or replacement parts are responsible for making the product work improperly.
Game consoles actually make for good test cases of the MMWA. For example, replacing the hard drive in the Xbox One S necessarily requires you to break the warranty seal on the console. But gamers regularly upgrade their hard drives all the time; if you replace the hard drive with a larger one and then, for some reason, the HDMI output breaks, Microsoft shouldn't be off the hook simply because you made that modification.
Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment for my first article, did not respond to the article after I sent it to them when it was published, and has not yet responded to a request for comment for this article.
"Manufacturers threaten to do things they cannot do legally but 99.9 percent of consumers have no idea of their actual rights," Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Repair Association, a group lobbying for fair repair laws around the country told me in June.
Steve Lehto, a Michigan-based lemon law attorney, told me Microsoft's MMWA violation is quite cut-and-dry, but noted that challenging Microsoft on the policy would be too expensive for any consumer.
"The manufacturers know that the litigation costs would be prohibitive in any given single case," he said. "But it might be ripe for a class action if there are legitimate problems being denied for warranty coverage by someone. That might be where this is headed someday."