What to make of Google backing Right-to-Repair in Oregon? 'It gives me hope'
Anything to slow down the tech trash treadmill welcome at this point
Google on Thursday voiced support for pending Right to Repair legislation in the US state of Oregon, calling it "a compelling model for other states to follow."
That message has yet to register with the CTIA, a wireless industry trade group that counts Google as a member.
In February 2023, the CTIA, in conjunction with several other industry groups, opposed Oregon SB 542 claiming [PDF] the proposed legislation would harm consumer safety (despite arguments [PDF] to the contrary), would require the disclosure of proprietary information, and fails to account for industry advances in electronic waste reduction.
SB 542 has not yet been approved by the Oregon State Senate. The bill is noteworthy because it includes a requirement to provide a means to replace parts protected by an electronic lock, a practice known as "parts pairing." This is where electronics are designed to detect and reject replacement components, such as displays, unless they've been installed by an authorized agent, something Apple is known for.
The legislation states:
An original equipment manufacturer shall make available to an owner or independent repair provider on fair and reasonable terms any documentation, tool or part necessary to disable and reset any electronic security lock or other security function in consumer electronic equipment that is or must be disabled or that must be reset while diagnosing, maintaining or repairing the consumer electronic equipment.
The Chocolate Factory, which had to be prodded to extend the life of its Chromebooks so they wouldn't prematurely litter landfills, characterizes its stance as a reaffirmation of its support for letting people repair products they've purchased.
To mark the occasion, Google also shared a policy paper [PDF] outlining the giant's view of Right to Repair, the current repairability of its Pixel devices, and how Right to Repair relates to broader sustainability efforts.
The super-corp claims that supporting its Pixel 8 phones for seven years represents the longest support commitment of any major manufacturer.
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"Google believes that users should have more control over repair – including access to the same documentation, parts and tools that original equipment manufacturer (OEM) repair channels have – which is often referred to as 'Right to Repair,'" the paper says.
Google's celebration of that belief follows Apple's surprise endorsement of California's Right to Repair law last August, and iBiz's backing of the Biden administration's push for a federal pro-repair law, a policy reversal that repair advocates have attributed to the popularity of Right to Repair proposals in state legislatures.
Nathan Proctor, Right to Repair campaign director for the US Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG), noted Google has joined a growing list of manufacturers that support repair rights.
"It is harder than it should be to fix the devices we use every day," said Proctor in a statement. "As a result, we are making, using and tossing way too much stuff. Google’s support for a strong Right to Repair bill in Oregon, which includes critical parts-pairing reforms, gives me hope that we can tackle our tech trash treadmill and keep devices working longer."
Reached by phone, Proctor said Google's support is remarkable because it's a big company and its support is meaningful. He observed that Google testified in support of the Oregon bill, which other big names in tech have not often done.
The CTIA did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the group's misalignment with Google. Asked about this, Proctor said he wasn't sure who the CTIA represents at this point. "They'll oppose bills when their most high-profile members support them," he said.
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Proctor said it's important that Google is supporting a bill that bans parts pairing, the practice of using unique digital identifiers to prevent components from being interchangeable. "We're hopeful we can stop this practice," he said, noting that it's the number one concern among repair shops.
Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, told The Register in an email, "We're delighted to see Google endorse Right to Repair – which I think is a sincere effort on their part to 'walk the talk' for making better products that stand the test of time."
Asked whether Google's stance suggests an effort to dilute government competition concerns, she said, "I have wondered for a long time which of the big tech companies would see the PR and marketing advantages of [supporting the Right to Repair]. I have zero insight into how this would translate into other problems they may have elsewhere."
"As to differences between Google and Apple support," she continued, "Apple is much less clear about how they will comply with Right to Repair laws outside of California as they clearly want to retain control of replacement parts by insisting they can continue with 'parts pairing' without any justification other than being pissy.
"John Deere does the same thing and it really blocks repair – for no advantage to the owner. Google has taken a very strong stand against parts pairing and it's a big deal in our view."
Citing Google's other recent repair-friendly move – to prolong the lives of Chromebooks at the urging of US PIRG – Gordon-Byrne said Google's support represents a great step forward. "I'd like to think others will follow their lead," she said. ®