One approach to improve digital quality of life is the right-to-repair movement. Proprietary software is making it so farmers can’t even repair their own tractors. Tech companies lock people out of their own devices. But there’s a movement pushing back, and it’s another example of how we can put the focus on people and improve digital quality of life.

What’s the Problem? 

The challenge is that a lot of companies are locking down the components of their products, making it impossible for owners to repair their own stuff. In response, customers are demanding the right to repair.

The iPhone is a good example. Apple has a virtual monopoly on repairs, refusing to sell parts to third-party shops and allowing them to charge customers exorbitant fees (Apple did expand its list of authorized service providers in 2019). It can get even more nefarious when companies threaten customers with warranty violations for repairs from an unauthorized provider. 

Given the proliferation of technology, this issue doesn’t just affect the latest techie gear. Farmers are turning to hackers to be able to diagnose and repair their own tractors. Companies like John Deere refuse to sell or license the required software to farmers, so those farmers are taking things into their own hands. 

The right-to-repair movement is taking cues from the automotive industry, where mechanics had to fight manufacturers for the right to access onboard computers and diagnose the pesky check engine light. Jump ahead a decade later and Tesla is fighting modification attempts.

This move toward proprietary software is actually pushing us toward a society where we don’t own anything. It’s already happening with entertainment. Instead of buying CDs or DVDs, we pay monthly subscriptions to Spotify or Netflix to have access to music and movies. But we don’t own any of it. Proprietary software means the same thing will happen to consumer products such as speakers, treadmills, and more.

The Antidote

But there is pushback. President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order that seeks to curb these anti-competitive practices and allow third-party repair options. 

Massachusetts has led the charge on right to repair, with a groundbreaking 2012 law that allowed mechanics access to the check engine diagnostics. In 2020, voters overwhelmingly approved another right to repair law that forces manufacturers to give owners access to their car’s data.

Personally, I just switched from my Mac to Meerkat because they support right-to-repair. I can replace any components I want and tinker to my heart’s content.

These steps forward put control over technology back in the hands of the people who use it, instead of boxing them out.

The Salesforce Example

That’s one reason why I work with Salesforce. Their approach to software is similar to right-to-repair because they always put the focus on the user experience. They allow us to customize our experience instead of assuming they know the right way to do it. That kind of flexibility and customization allows Salesforce to be incredibly adaptable to all kinds of different uses. 

Salesforce also provides an open API and makes sure the data is always freely accessible. You’re not locked into Salesforce. At any time you can take your data and go to another software solution if desired.

That’s how tech companies should work to collaborate with customers instead of penalizing them. It gives people the freedom to make their own choices and ultimately improves our digital quality of life.