Microsoft Vows To Make Xbox And Surface Devices Easier To Fix In Support Of Right To Repair
Consumers' right to repair their own devices is one of the lesser-discussed political battlegrounds in the United States, but it's probably one that most-directly affects gamers and hardware enthusiasts. It's a contentious issue: detractors claim that making their devices repairable will make them less reliable, less secure and more expensive, while supporters deny those claims and say that making devices repairable and sustainable will improve basically everything for everyone—even the companies making the devices.
Right-to-repair has historically been opposed vehemently by American tech corporations, such as Apple and Microsoft, but yesterday, one of those titans seemingly switched sides. Responding to growing momentum among its own shareholders, Microsoft announced that it will be taking measures to improve the repairability of its devices, including Xbox and Surface devices.
Said momentum was primarily built by the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, previously responsible for similar wins against Duke Energy and Twitter. The group originally contacted Microsoft "several years ago" and were completely shut down by Redmond's legal team. It wasn't until filing a shareholder resolution in June that Microsoft changed its tune, possibly egged on by the winds of change nationwide.
Some 27 states have considered right-to-repair laws, and some have passed, including in NY. Back in May of this year, the FTC released a report that condemned manufacturers' restrictions on customers' ability to repair their own devices, and then in June, Congressman Joseph Morelle (D-NY) filed the Digital Fair Repair Act, a federal bill that closely mirrors his state's national law. In July, President Biden issued an executive order asking the FTC to address "unfair anti-competitive restrictions on third-party repair."
So far, it's not completely clear that Microsoft as a whole is throwing its support behind right-to-repair; the company is still a member of multiple groups that oppose right-to-repair legislation, including the Entertainment Software Association.
However, Microsoft has made several commitments with As You Sow, including that it will "expand the availability of certain parts and repair documentation" beyond its own authorized repair shops, and that it will "enable and facilitate local repair options for consumers." The company also pledged to hire an outside consultant to do a study on "the environmental and social impacts" of right-to-repair policies; it is required to release the results of that report before May 2022.
That's a lot more than most companies have done. According to As You Sow, this is the first time a U.S. manufacturer that opposed right-to-repair has changed its policies due to investor pressure. Hopefully for the movement, it won't be the last.