Last week, Microsoft acceded to pressure from an investor group which advocates for “right-to-repair” policies which, if widely adopted, would facilitate independent repair of many technological devices by making things like spare parts and repair documentation more readily attainable. Though it’s too soon to say just what the impact of Microsoft’s first steps will ultimately be, the move is noteworthy for representing the first time a major tech company has acknowledged the right-to-repair movement in this way.
Despite its publicly stated commitment to becoming “carbon negative” by 2030, Microsoft initially resisted the group’s demands for right-to-repair policies. The company started to change its corporate stance after the shareholder resolution gained significant media attention in June.
Microsoft has now agreed to hire a third party to investigate the impacts of allowing customers to repair their own devices. These investigators will also determine new ways to enable the repair of Xbox and Surface devices. The company has also agreed to increase public access to repair documentation and parts, making them available beyond its official authorized network. Microsoft is required to publish its findings by May 2022, and has agreed to increase access to repair-related materials by the end of 2022.
According to the right-to-repair advocacy group, called As You Sow, electronics are the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, and over 70% of computer-related emissions are produced during manufacture. Allowing customers to repair their own electronics (and therefore extending their usage lifespan) would reduce overall mining and pollution.
As VGC originally reported, enacting these changes comes with unique challenges. Microsoft is a member of lobbying groups which oppose right-to-repair stances, especially the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The ESA states that consumer repair would lead to “significant potential for security and piracy risks,” and that “right to repair supporters exaggerate the environmental impact of legislation as it relates to consoles.” The ESA’s stance is not simply a policy on paper; the group has actively lobbied against the passage of right-to-repair laws in Nebraska.
The Xbox manufacturer has also been hostile toward consumer repair in its own official policies. Currently, Microsoft’s Terms of Service do not apply the manufacturer repair warranty to Xbox devices that show “damage caused by repairs or modifications done by someone other than Microsoft or a Microsoft authorized service provider,” even if the customer is willing to pay a fee.
However, the right-to-repair movement is gaining new public attention. Microsoft’s willingness to change in the face of public pressure could foreshadow an impending shift among other manufacturers as well.