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Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren focusing 'right to repair' on farmers, not tech

After a call for the breakup of major technology corporations like Apple, Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren so far appears to be focused more on the farming industry than tech when it comes to advocating the right to repair.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren



Many family farmers are forced to depend on authorized servicers to fix equipment, Warren said in a new Medium manifesto. This is because manufactuers use software that prevents unauthorized repairs, which Warren argues results in delays and higher prices.

"Farmers should be able to repair their own equipment or choose between multiple repair shops," she wrote. "That's why I strongly support a national right-to-repair law that empowers farmers to repair their equipment without going to an authorized agent. The national right-to-repair law should require manufacturers of farm equipment to make diagnostic tools, manuals, and other repair-related resources available to any individual or business, not just their own dealerships and authorized agents. This will not only allow individuals to fix their own equipment — reducing delays — but it will also create competition among dealers and independent repair shops, bringing down prices overall."

Normally eager to position itself as the consumer's friend, Apple has opposed right-to-repair laws in places like California, claiming it would expose company secrets and create safety and security problems. While there are innumerable third-party Apple repair firms around the world, only Apple and its authorized service providers are able to perform full service in a way that doesn't void warranties. The company doesn't provide parts or repair manuals outside of its official network.

20 U.S. states have some form of right-to-repair legislation under consideration. Apple is one of several tech companies lobbying politicians to act in its favor.

Earlier this month Warren called for the breakup of several tech giants including Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook. In the case of Apple she suggested that the App Store should be spun off into its own company, given that first-party services have unfair advantages.

"One, you've sucked up information about every buyer and every seller before you've made a decision about what you're going to to sell," Warren said at SXSW. "And second, you have the capacity — because you run the platform — to prefer your product over anyone else's product. It gives an enormous comparative advantage to the platform."

Apple takes a 15 to 30 percent cut from all third-party App Store transactions, but of course 100 percent from apps like Apple Music. Its apps are also deeply platform-integrated in a way unavailable to outsiders — Spotify, for example, can't be set as a default music service on the HomePod, even though that's possible on smartspeakers from Amazon and Google.

At the U.S. Supreme Court last year, Apple insisted that developers are "buying a package of services which include distribution and software and intellectual property and testing" when they pay its commission. Critics have pointed out that Apple won't let creators publish anywhere but the App Store, and that it might be unfair to take money from subscription services it doesn't produce or host.

A breakup of tech corporations would have historical precedent, since the U.S. government has previously undone monopolies by companies like AT&T, Microsoft, J.P. Morgan, and Standard Oil.