Featured Article : What Does “Right-To-Repair” Actually Mean?

In this article, we look at the right-to-repair movement, where it comes from, and how it’s progressing.

The Right-To-Repair

The ‘right-to-repair’ is a movement that seeks to have rules/legislation passed that forces manufacturers (e.g. of appliances, electrical products, white goods and more) to make parts (and information) available to end customers, not just approved/authorised repairers, and technicians, so that it is possible for end-users to fix the product at home.  The basic idea is that this could help tackle built-in obsolescence, thereby prolonging product life cycles, creating better value and saving money for consumers, and reducing the number of products going to waste thereby helping the environment.

Built-In Obsolescence

Built-in or planned obsolescence is a policy of designing and making products that have an artificially limited useful life or a purposely frail design, thereby ensuring that they will become obsolete and useless to the buyer within a certain time period/will have a deliberately short lifespan (e.g. a few years). This, of course, will require the consumer to buy another product, thereby ensuring more sales. Part of the setup to support this cycle involves making the product a ‘closed book’ to the end consumer by making parts unavailable, limiting information about the workings of the product, and potentially making repair seem unattractive, too costly, or too or dangerous to consumers.

Although people some cite it as more of a conspiracy theory (preferring to blame consumers), planned obsolescence appears to have started a long time ago (e.g. “Phoebus cartel” in the 1920s) where leading light bulb manufacturers colluded to artificially reduce bulbs’ lifetimes to 1,000 hours.

Software and Apps

Today, it is not just the manufacture of physical goods that contributes to obsolescence.  For example, in the case of many tech items, not enabling the latest apps to run on older versions of a device can seriously limit the usefulness and appeal of the device.

UK’s First Small Step

Earlier this month, the UK government passed laws that mark what many consider to be a useful first step towards the right-to-repair.  The new UK laws mean that manufacturers must make spare parts available to people buying electrical appliances, and those parts must be sold directly by the manufacturer for 10 years, even if the complete products are no longer selling in their range. The new UK laws are accompanied by changes in efficiency standards of products that are designed to cut carbon emissions.

However, the new UK laws are limited to appliances (e.g. white goods) and the kinds of parts that manufacturers are required to make available are fairly simple and safe ones such as hinges or new baskets for fridges/freezers. Also, there is a grace period of the next two years before manufacturers must make spare parts available. Critics also argue that the UK government has not technically given consumers a legal right to repair because the spare parts and repairability criteria only apply to professional repairers, not end users/owners.

Elsewhere

In Europe, the European Commission (EC) has already announced plans to introduce right-to-repair rules for smartphones, tablets, and laptops, and in the US, there are reports that President Joe Biden is soon expected to sign an executive order which will ask the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to draw up some rules for the repair of farming equipment. Currently, however, only Massachusetts has a right-to-repair law which was passed in 2013 and relates to vehicle manufacturers providing diagnostic and repair information in certain circumstances.

Advocate

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is a known advocate of right-to-repair.  In a recent reply to another right-to-repair campaigner Louis Rossmann on Cameo (where video messages and greetings from celebrities can be purchased), Mr Wozniak pointed out that open technology was one of the key factors that led to the development of the first Apple computers and that he believes that inhibiting the right-to-repair could be a way for companies to simply gain power and control over everything. Mr Wozniak highlighted how the ability to build something from parts is also a way for people to afford something that they couldn’t ordinarily afford, help creativity, education/learning, and motivation.

The Safety Argument

One of the big arguments against the right-to-repair by manufacturers is that it may not be safe for consumers to attempt repairs. Tech companies Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are among those who specify who can repair their phones and game consoles on the grounds that there could be safety and security risks if end users attempted repairs of these electrical/tech items themselves. It has also been reported that the John Deere tractor manufacturer has expressed opposition to the idea of end-users repairing its products due to possible safety risks.

Low Price Products

Low prices are another way the motivation to repair an item can be eroded, thereby weakening the right-to-repair argument for many consumers. For example, if appliances are very cheap and go wrong within a few years, buying another one may seem cheaper and less trouble than trying to repair the existing one.

High Price For Parts

Similarly, making the parts (or software upgrades) for repair prohibitively expensive could be another way that companies could erode the motivation of consumers to repair their products.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though the right-to-repair movement has some sound reasons behind it (e.g. environmental) and some high-profile advocates, it still has a very long way to go. UK laws have taken one small step this month although there is a long grace period before companies must comply, and there is some hope that the US will make some new laws within weeks that it will advance right-to-repair beyond the very limited automotive areas where there are some rules at the moment, but still just to farming machinery.  As the movement gathers pace it will put pressure on manufacturers and tech companies to find ways to comply, maintain profits, and protect their image by being seen to be acting fairly and responsibly as consumers are becoming more environmentally aware as well as being able to take to social media to influence each other in their purchasing.

Tech Insight : Open Plan Offices Create Stress From Noise

Recent research by TheNextWeb.com has confirmed long suspected views that open-plan office designs can reduce psychological well-being, affect moods, and create stress.

This Study

The most recent study, published online by Cambridge University Press, is based on an experiment which compared the difference between the effects of office noise on those in a larger open-plan office (an OPO auditory environment), and a quieter private office (an office auditory environment).  A range of objective and subjective measures of well-being and performance were compared between subjects in simulated versions of an open-plan, and a private office setting.  The researchers looked at both objective and subjective measures of well-being and performance.

The Results

The results showed that although noise didn’t have a negative effect on the cognitive task performance of those working in an open-plan office (compared to the quieter environment), the noise of the open-plan space did reduce psychological well-being.

How Did They Know?

The researchers came to their conclusions by studying self-reports of the mood of the research subjects, their facial expressions of emotion, and the physiological indicators of stress of the subjects such, such as heart-rate and skin conductivity.

Arguments For Open-Plan

Although there now appears to be a growing body of research to suggest that open-plan offices may not have lived-up to their promise of easier communication and collaboration, there are what appear to be some sound, practical reasons for having an open-plan offices in the first place.  These include the desire to make teams feel closer and to encourage interaction (even though this may only happen with those in close proximity), making office culture and informal communication more transparent, making the office space more flexible, and saving costs.

Previous Research

Previous research about the effects of open-plan office design on workers, has, however, reached many more negative conclusions, including:

– Distraction can be a problem in open-plan workplaces.

– Lack of privacy affects engagement in tasks. Also, a Steelcase study (2014), showed that a lack of employee privacy in the workplace can negatively affect an employee’s overall ability to become deeply engaged in the work they are doing.

– Open plan doesn’t necessarily improve interaction or collaboration. A study by Bernstein and Turban, funded by Harvard Business School (2018) found that, contrary to popular belief, open office architectures significantly decrease the volume of face-to-face interaction (by approx. 70 percent).

– Employees in open-plan offices may be less likely to speak up or voice their concerns when they disagree with others. For example, the ‘Room – 2018 Office Woes Report’ highlighted how 31 percent of employees in open-plan offices say they hold back their true thoughts and opinions for fear of being heard and judged by co-workers. Similarly, being constantly observable in an office can dampen interactions that could help collaboration.

– Privacy and concentration are sacrificed in an open-plan setting in favour of the need for collaboration and interaction, but this trade-off has negative outcomes for productivity and work relationships.

Noise At Work Affecting Stress Levels

Just as indicated in the recent TheNextWeb.com study, noise (background noise and noise at work) has long been known to be a stress-inducing factor. For example, The Remark Group study (2019) showed that 65 percent of subjects said that that noise in the workplace impacted on their ability to complete work in an accurate and timely manner, almost half (44 percent) reported that noise had a negative impact on their overall wellbeing, and 40 percent reported that noise at work caused them to feel stressed.

Too Many People in (Open Plan) Office No Better

Other research has shown that putting large numbers of employees in an enclosed space can also cause stress and can make it much easier to spread viruses and infections.  For example, studies have shown that employees in open offices take over 60 percent more sick days (average) than employees in more traditional style workplaces.

The Pandemic Factor

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that office noise and distraction in open-plan offices have gone further down the list of concerns (below safety) from infection as many employees are making the return to offices.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Open-plan working appears to make workers feel less in control of their environment, more conscious of what they’re saying (often to the detriment of the company) and exposes them to other stress-inducing stimuli (noise and other distractions) that can also have a negative effect on productivity. Businesses need to focus attention on how they can build a close, productive team of people with complementary skills and attributes. As far as office layout goes, assessing the impact of things like noise (and other distractions) could enable data data-driven recommendations about the design and modification of workspaces, and businesses need to create balanced office layouts that enable employees to feel as though they have enough boundaries to make sense of their environment and feel comfortable, minimise noise and distractions, benefit collaboration, and contribute to workflow. The pandemic, however, has made office environments less attractive altogether for workers, and the challenge of designing post-pandemic office spaces that minimise yet another source of stress (fear of infection at work) has become a new challenge for many businesses, open plan or not.

Tech News : Trump Sues Social Media Platforms Channels For Censoring Him

Only 6 months after the storming of the United States Capitol in Washington and having his social media accounts suspended, former US resident Trump is suing Google, Twitter and Facebook, and their respective CEOs for allegedly censoring him.

Twitter Account Permanently Suspended

Trump’s presidency was characterised by his choice to constantly use Twitter as a means to bypass the mainstream media, who he often accused of spreading ‘fake news’. On January 8, Trump fell out of love with Twitter, and lost his chosen platform after Twitter imposed a permanent suspension of his account following 2 Tweets that, in the context of US events of the time, were found to be in violation of Twitter’s Glorification of Violence Policy.  The tweets were:

“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”

and shortly after:

“To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th.”

Facebook

Trump was also suspended from all Facebook platforms following the 6 January US Capitol riot, and then his Facebook account was suspended until 7 January 2023, a period that could be extended if Facebook still believes there is a risk to public safety through reinstatement.

Google (YouTube)

Google and Alphabet Inc’s CEO Pichai Sundararajan (Sundar Pichai) fell out of favour with Donald Trump and now faces a lawsuit because Google’s YouTube video sharing platform indefinitely banned Trump back in in January.

Announced at News Conference

The news that Donald Trump had launched a class-action lawsuit against the 3 social media companies and their CEOs came at a news conference held at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey last Wednesday. On the same day, Mr Trump’s Republican allies in Congress announced their intention to “take on Big Tech” and get rid of the Section 230 law that protects social media companies from being liable for the things that users post.  Following the news conference, which was also attended by those with links to not-for-profit America First Policy Institute, messages appealing for money were sent out, with one reportedly including a link to the fundraising entity ‘Save America’, which also raises money for other Republican political initiatives.

Criticism

News of the lawsuits has prompted criticism from a variety of legal commentators, some of whom have dismissed any chances of success for the actions, highlighted how Trump appears to have a habit of instigating litigation, and suggested that the lawsuits may be more of a PR exercise.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The views expressed in the press appear to indicate that the lawsuits have little chance of success and are, therefore, unlikely to trouble the CEOs of the 3 named big tech companies. It is well-known that Trump, his supporters, and other Republicans appear to believe that Silicon Valley is somehow working behind the scenes to censor and silence conservative and far-right messages.

Trump himself though is facing a number of criminal and civil lawsuits and investigations and just days ago, the Arizona Secretary of State called for a criminal investigation into alleged efforts by Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and others to put pressure on Maricopa County supervisors following Trump losing Arizona in the presidential election. Also, the Trump Organisation and its finance chief have just been charged with tax-related crimes, which Mr Trump has, of course, dismissed as a “political witch hunt”.  It seems, therefore, that with all the trouble that Mr Trump appears to be facing, and with limited hope of success in his latest lawsuits against the tech giants, that not much will come of this, apart from some more publicity for Mr Trump, which may please some of his supporters.

Tech News : Google Facing Anti-Trust App Store Lawsuit

Google is facing an antitrust lawsuit by 37 US states over allegations relating to how Google may be abusing its position of power in relation to Android app distribution and competition.

The Lawsuit

The lawsuit makes allegations in three main areas which are broadly that Google:

  1. Unlawfully maintains its monopoly in the market for Android app Distribution.
  2. Has unlawfully maintained a monopoly in the Android in-app payment processing market.
  3. Is engaging in unfair and deceptive conduct that harms consumers. 

The key arguments in the lawsuit focus on allegations that Google is using its market monopoly power as the main Android app distributor through its Play Store to charge 30 per cent fees for in-app purchases (the same as Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft XBox) from developers.  The lawsuit also alleges that Google offered to “buy off Samsung” in order to prevent it from developing its competing app store.

Competitors

Competitors have taken advantage of the situation to make themselves more attractive to developers by charging less.  For example, Big G in India, which is a key market of Google, cut its commission to 15 per cent to those app developers who make less than $1 million per year.

Google Says….

In a recent, detailed blog post, Google has argued that the lawsuit appears to ignore the choice that it offers compared to competitors, saying, “If you don’t find the app you’re looking for in Google Play, you can choose to download the app from a rival app store or directly from a developer’s website. We don’t impose the same restrictions as other mobile operating systems do.”

Also, Google has taken a swipe at the group of state attorneys who are filing the lawsuit by saying that it attacks a system “that provides more openness and choice than others.”

There is also an argument in Google’s favour that Google has been relatively loose to date in enforcing app developers use its payment system for purchases made through the Play Store.

Criticism and Other Lawsuits

Critics who are more sympathetic to Google, have also suggested, however, that the lawsuit may be less about consumer protection and fairness, and more about protecting the interests of a number of app developers who are benefitting from Google Play without paying for it,

Other critics have suggested that while Google may allow other app stores, it appears to have taken steps to limit the traction of those stores e.g., other app stores can’t be downloaded from its Google Play Store.  Also, the Google Play Store is preinstalled on all Android smartphones, and it has been reported that other app stores can’t buy advertising on the Google search engine or YouTube. 

Google has faced other similar lawsuits e.g., Epic Games suing Google over the removal of Fortnite from the Play Store last year (it was also removed from the iOS App Store).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With Google’s Play Store being pre-installed on Android phones, it is clearly a very important platform for app developers to be part of. Yes, apps can be downloaded direct from developers, but discovering and downloading apps would appear to be more convenient and likely via a central store. It also seems fair, however, that having access to that route to market should come at some price, and it is inevitable that the level of commission charged is a contentious issue and an area of competition between app stores.  The tech market has long been characterised by a group of big players apparently taking the lion’s share of the market, all of whom, including Google have face various antitrust legal challenges before, often with little real success. The fact that this one is from a multi-state group of attorneys, however, appears to give this one the impression of a bit more clout although it still remains to be seen how this plays out.

Tech Tip : Create Simple To-Do Lists Using Google Tasks

Google Tasks (like Microsoft To-Do), which is already built into Gmail and Google Calendar offers an easy way to create simple to-do lists. Here’s how to use it:

– Sign-in to Google, open Calendar, and click on the ‘Tasks’ symbol (right-hand side, blue circle with pen symbol).

– Click on “Add a task”.

– Add the title, details, date, and time, and click on the tick/complete link. You will notice that it has then been added to your calendar.

– For bigger tasks, click on the three-dot symbol next to the task name (right-hand side of Calendar), select ‘Subtask’, and add each subtask of the main task including time and date.

– When a task is completed, right-mouse click on it in Calendar and select ‘Mark completed’. This will put a line through the task.

– In Calendar, clicking on the yellow light bulb symbol enables you to add notes via Google Keep.