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Who Owns Your Smartphone?

Given the fact that you paid for the device on which you’re most likely reading this article, the answer to this question should be pretty straightforward. However, when you purchase a technological gadget you acquire ownership only of the physical device, not the indispensable software that it runs with. This has become a modern dilemma because as any other owner, manufacturers want and need to protect their property. They do this by implementing license agreements on their customers and keeping diagnostic manuals to themselves. These measures serve to protect their systems, but they also prevent both individuals from “tinkering” with their devices and independent repair business from performing their jobs, circumstances that intend to control a product even after its purchase which according to Gay Gordon-Byrne, the most important advocate in the movement, goes against many aspects of ownership.


Over the last few decades, freelance tech repair became a service industry that creates millions of jobs worldwide. Before, most technicians that worked in this field were able to get a full grasp of the workings of a machine with the repair manuals that they came with. However, in the recent years, this indispensable data has been kept from the public by using copyrights as an excuse. This means that repairmen now have to dig for this information, by doing appliance tear ups that allow them to get to know the parts of the machines, and basically create their own guidebooks which are then shared online with the intent of increasing collective knowledge. But even as efficient as this process has become, the range of problems they can solve is still lowered the more secretive manufacturers become about their designs. Take the latest visions of the iPhone as an example; ever since Apple implemented the fingerprint reader to their home button, independent technicians haven’t been able to repair it. This is because, in order to get an iPhone to assimilate a new one they’d need to calibrate it with a machine only available on official Apple stores -not even on their authorized service providers- and so mysterious that there are not even images of it online. Additionally, the fact that the iPhone X integrates the home button and touch ID into the screen means that now independent technicians won’t be able to fix even a broken screen which can be easily considered the most common type of repair.


This situation enables a monopoly in which the manufacturer is the only capable entity of fixing a broken appliance. In fact, according to iFixit, this change puts at risk more than 15000 companies who employ their iPhone parts sale program. Moreover, by eliminating the possibility of rushing to the most accessible or cheap aid they are also creating an environmental issue which has caused an increase in the share of new products purchased to replace a defective one from 3.8% to 8.3% in five years. Besides this, forcing users to wait for official assistance also makes the repair process much slower, an aspect that becomes even more serious if we take into account that this dilemma goes beyond smartphones as a result of the fact that in our modern societies more than one industry is going through digital transformations. An example of this is John Deere Tractors, a company that now forces farmers to wait for a representative of the company to get assistance whenever they break down, a process that is not convenient or profitable for them at all since they need to harvest and sell their products within certain dates.


Nevertheless, there are some arguments in favor of manufacturers, for starters, and probably the most significant one is that granting users or independents repair businesses access to this information also means that hackers would get a deeper knowledge of their devices, which would make systems more vulnerable to cyber attacks, something that would be convenient for neither of the parties involved. Furthermore, multiple companies have also suggested that retaining repair manuals also prevent individuals from harming themselves while trying to repair an appliance without the necessary skills to do so.


It is safe to say that both parties have viable arguments justifying their actions or demands, It wouldn’t be convenient for manufacturers nor users if hackers got their hands on some manual that would allow them to breach the system that protects your personal information. Nevertheless, keeping this indispensable data to themselves is a disruption of ownership because ultimately, if you buy something, then you should be able to decide what to do with it when it breaks down, instead of the current situation in which you have some kind of shared custody with the manufacturer.

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