It’s a comforting thought, when you’ve dropped a serious chunk of change on IT upgrades, that if nothing else, you at least own the devices you’ve invested in. But what Apple and Amazon are teaming up over is threatening to make that nothing more than a fantasy. As technology intertwines hardware with software, the lines of ownership are being blurred. And that brings with it a host of problems.
The battleground of property rights
Large companies are continuously exerting unfriendly policies in order to assist their profitability or maintain their promises of security, but the real victims in the end will be their customers. Making devices more and more difficult to repair or modify means there is less that the owner can do when the immediate usefulness of a device wanes. Add to that the fact that tech companies can remotely throttle or control how those devices operate, and the idea of ownership becomes an Apple board-room punchline.
Where this really gets problematic is when it comes time to responsibly disposition those devices. For corporate enterprises in particular, this is a huge problem since the sheer number of devices they need to disposition can constitute a superfund site if not handled sustainably. e-Waste is toxic, after all. So, when thousands of monitors, PCs, and peripherals need to be handled, where does the onus lie if ownership is questionable?
You can see why, as a sustainable company, this is a big deal for us. The last thing we need is for corporate America to sidestep the responsibility they have for their IT assets because the company who sold them won’t allow them to refurbish or repair them. It’s in this ability of refurbishments and repairs that we are able to profit share with our clients—another incentive for them to be sustainable.
More than sustainable, ownership is just right
I’ve made my case from a sustainable angle, but there is still the elephant of property rights in the room. When tech companies maintain control over our devices in such a significant degree so as to throttle our phones or prohibit 3rd party repairs, then a fundamental concept that every economy since the beginning of commerce has been built on. Namely, that when I own something, it’s mine.
When you purchase groceries from the market, the butcher or produce attendant doesn’t come home with you and tell you how to prepare your meal, right? By ceding control of devices to the manufacturers, we are effectively inviting the manufacturers to interfere with the products we purchased from them. As a small business person choosing to refurbish, or an enterprise company looking to resell a secure device, not being able to is an infringement to owner rights.
Why is this even an issue?
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that the profitability and security promise of these companies is largely what moves them to challenge the Right to Repair bill that embodies this argument. But the reality is their power is growing out of control. Hear me out on this; it’s not conspiracy theories I’m talking about.
We already know that they hold algorithms that can track our moods to the point of potential manipulation. And we’ve seen how their products can shift popular opinion in things like political races, scientific reasoning, and international affairs. And we know that they can force updates that alter the hardware of these devices to work differently. So, I ask you: is there anything they don’t control?
If you said property rights, you hit it on the head. The last front to yield control is the area of property rights. As we hold firm on this ground, the final piece to giving tech companies complete control over the devices we use is still in our hands. But just wanting to keep an inalienable right isn’t enough for some people, so let’s look at another reason this needs to be challenged.
Monopoly isn’t fun for anyone in the end
If you’ve ever played the game Monopoly—I mean really played—you know it’s a losing proposition. I mean, even if you win (like my oldest son does EVERY time we play) you end up alone. There is nothing left to accomplish. So, when a big tech company gains complete control, even they lost out in the long run.
But the argument is that Apple wants to control the customer experience around their products. Only, the wolf in this sheep’s clothing is that Apple is actually looking to create an undiluted market by unifying with Amazon. This tag-team match is a clear example of the schoolyard bully joining forces with the teacher’s pet—which leaves everyone else on the outside looking in. The eventuality of the largest manufacturer and the largest sales channel shaking hands like this is that we will have only the Apple to bite from. And after a while, that’s just not going to taste as good as it once did.