Right to repair

April 3, 2018 | 18:55
Right to repair
Right to repair
To prolong the life of my Nexus 5 phone, I installed different software on it. The hardware still works perfectly, but the software is no longer supported by Google. Now I am running LineageOS, an open-source operating system for Android devices that does still support the Nexus 5.

The Nexus 5 was launched in October 2013 and initially ran on Android 4 (KitKat). For two years after that it was supported by the major Android updates, ending with Android 6 in October 2015. But it was not included in the devices supported by Nougat (Android 7).

Drop test

The Nexus 5 is a top-quality phone with good hardware specs than even now are adequate for normal use. It has also proven to be sturdy, having survived several unintentional drop tests in the course of three years of use. I am not particularly interested in the new features of Nougat, but in October 2016 security updates were also discontinued for this model. If known security gaps are not patched, your phone is vulnerable. I am therefore very thankful to the LineageOS community for continuing to support the Nexus 5 in their firmware. That way my hardware has a chance to keep doing its job until the final (and fatal) drop test.

The Nexus 5 was supported by Google for only three years in total. (As the Nexus 5 is a Google flagship product, Google is directly responsible for updates, instead of the manufacturer as with most Android phones.) Actually Google is not unique in that regard. In fact, three years of guaranteed support is about the best you can expect in the complex Android world where manufacturers, chip makers, network providers and Google all have to work together to implement updates.

Samsung in court

This ultra-short product life cycle is not good for the environment. Longer life would save scarce minerals that are used in the components of mobile phones and help to reduce the enormous mountain of electronic waste.
For that reason, last year Greenpeace urged manufacturers to make easily repairable devices.

Short product life also compels consumers to repeatedly spend a lot of money on new phones The Dutch Consumers Association has taken up their cause by summoning Samsung to appear court with the demand that the manufacturer guarantee updates for at least two years after the date of purchase. Based on their own investigation, the Consumers Association claims that 44% of Samsung phones have not had any security updates for six months or longer. Samsung and the Consumers Association appeared in court on 26 March. The court’s decision has not yet been announced.

Understanding and repairing devices

Politicians also realise that something needs to be done. Recently in California legislation was introduced that is intended to guarantee the “right to repair”. If that bill is passed, manufacturers of electronic devices will have to make spare parts and repair manuals available.

“This law would help protect the right to understand and to repair your own devices”, says Kit Walsh, a lawyer for the digital citizens’ rights organisation Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We should be encouraging people to take things apart and learn from them. That’s how many of today’s successful inventors got started.”

Photo: William Warby. CC BY 2.0.
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