The company is the first large tech firm to declare a willingness to address the ‘right to repair’ movement, which wants companies to make it possible for anyone to repair their devices.
Although it’s already perfectly legal for customers to repair products they own, a number of large tech companies like Microsoft and Apple make this impossible by refusing to provide spare parts or repair documentation to anyone who isn’t an authorised repair partner.
However, Grist reports that Microsoft has now reached an agreement with As You Sow, a non-profit investor group who filed a shareholder resolution in June asking Microsoft to study the “environmental and social benefits” of making it easier to repair devices.
Microsoft has agreed to hire an independent consultant to study the benefits of giving consumers more access to parts and repair documentation, including whether this will reduce carbon emissions and waste.
Microsoft will not make this study public because it may contain trade secrets and other proprietary information, but it will post a public summary of its findings by the start of May 2022.
As long as these findings show that there are benefits to letting people repair their own products, Microsoft has agreed that it will make new parts and documentation available beyond its authorised repair network by the end of 2022, and will launch new initiatives to help with local repairs.
Although Microsoft’s agreement will be considered a victory for right-to-repair campaigners, some are remaining cautious. Nathan Proctor of the US Public Research Interest Group told Grist that Microsoft is still a member of lobbying groups that oppose right-to-repair bills.
“We really appreciate what they’re doing for this report, but if they show up to kill right-to-repair bills there’s still more work to be done,” Proctor said.
The potential problem Microsoft faces is that one of these lobbying groups is the Entertainment Software Association, the trade association of the video game industry in the US.
The ESA has made its views against right-to-repair clear, putting Microsoft in a potential dilemma where it’s agreed to potentially embrace the concept while still being a member of a group that strongly opposes it.