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Apple was in conflict over the right to repair, emails show

Apple has not always known what public position the right to repair policy and legislation should take recently published internal emails. The 2019 discussion, which was brought to Congress for its antitrust investigation, highlights the Apple PR team’s struggle to keep public posts cohesive amid stories of internal repair developments seemingly opening up Apple’s repair ecosystem.

The email exchange is part of a wealth of documents published by the US House Judiciary Committee around its antitrust investigation of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook. The committee’s first hearing on this topic took place over five hours yesterday, with the CEOs of all technology companies breaking in remotely.

In one email, Lori Lodes, former director of corporate communications, highlighted multiple incidents where Apple seemingly supports more repair options while opposing multiple state laws.

“At this point, it’s pretty clear that things are happening in a vacuum and there is no overall strategy,” Lodes wrote to former VP of communications Steve Dowling.

An email exchange between Lori Lodes, former corporate communications director, and Steve Dowling, former vice president of communications.
Image: House Judiciary Committee

Apple’s policy is notorious within the repair community. Independent providers have to pay to become “ authorized service providers, ” which until last year was the only way to receive genuine Apple parts. Even now, independent stores can’t get the tools or parts to fix all the problems with Apple devices, only the ones that Apple specifically allows, such as solutions for screens and batteries. In response, proponents of restoration of rights want state laws that oblige Apple and other electronics manufacturers to put manuals online, make tools available, and sell genuine parts.

Apple has argued that it is dangerous for people to open their electronics, it is difficult, and security can be compromised if independent repair shops have access to diagnostic tools.

The issue came to a head on March 25, 2019 when two iMac tutorials were posted online, which a freelancer for iFixit saw and commented on. Lodes said the company’s environmental technology team uploaded these documents and that other people within the company wanted it removed. Lodes said that she and the PR team believe that Apple should “make a decision about what our strategy is and move in that direction.”

An email exchange between Lori Lodes, former corporate communications director, and Steve Dowling, former vice president of communications.
Image: House Judiciary Committee

Finally, Lodes pointed out that the company would soon announce a home repair with an outside repair service.

“With one hand we are making these changes and with the other we are actively fighting to restore legislation in 20 states without real coordination on how updated policies can be used to leverage our position,” Lodes noted.

A few days after that first email, Lodes wrote that one New York Times news reporter was planning an editorial board about the law on the right to restore and to mention Apple as an example. The emails show a lot of disagreement on how to respond.

“The bigger problem is that our strategy around all of this is unclear,” said Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokesperson. “Right now we’re talking from both sides of our mouth and no one knows where we’re going.”

Apple’s repair policy is often touted as the most aggressive in the industry incorporating physical mechanisms such as proprietary screws and parts to which only authorized repair shops have access.

So far, advocates for the right to repair have welcomed the release of the emails, suggesting that Apple may reconsider its strict stance on self-repair. “Public service manuals are useful for your customers,” wrote the self-healing group iFixit in a long post. “They are useful for recyclers, they save the planet by extending the life of products and they are simply the right choice. Do you want people to safely repair your products? Then teach them how to do it the right way. ‘