EU should enable reusability of software to extend usage lifetimes of devices
We gave feedback to the EU consultation about "Energy labelling of mobile phones and tablets". Access to hardware, permission to replace the operating system of the device, and publication of the code are key to make phones last longer.
In December 2020, the EU consultation about "Energy labelling of mobile phones and tablets" opened for feedback, and on 27 January 2021 the FSFE submitted its contribution. The consultation is part of a current revisal on the European Ecodesign regulation, aiming to ensure that:
- mobile phones and tablets are designed to be energy efficient and durable
- consumers can easily repair, upgrade and maintain these devices
- circular economy models are provided with possible reuse and recycling of devices.
The FSFE responded to the initiative.
90% or more of the overall resource and energy consumption in the lifetime of nowadays smartphones and tablets incur by their production and global transport but less than 10% by their actual usage time. Thus, extending usage lifetime of produced mobile phones and tablets (hereafter together addressed as “phones”) is key to lower their environmental impact.
When the manufacturing company stops supporting the software of past devices, the user is not in a position to use the device without security risks. However, the hardware is in good condition. This is planned obsolescence, a practice that affects software. The problem is artificially created by manufacturers to raise sales of new phones instead of letting consumers keep using the old ones.
One solution to the problem would be to enforce a guaranteed minimal support-time of security updates by manufacturers. But even more helpful in the long run would be the obligation to publish the code under a Free Software license if no more security support is or can be provided.
It should be reminded that manufacturers prevent the users from fixing the device too. Preventions include technical measures, for example locking the bootloader, and legal measures, for example threatening to void your warranty by flashing a Custom Rom on your device.
The Commission must ensure any customer’s full right to their own hardware including access to the bootloader and the ability to replace the operating system at will. Without planned obsolescence, smartphones can last longer and the devices can be repurposed. Respecting the users' right to repair is a sustainable solution. Repairing our devices instead of buying new ones is an environmentally friendly behaviour.
Finally, these decisions can have significant financial benefits for small businesses and for the European tech industry. Offering consumer’s the right to their own hardware and extend its usage lifetimes via third-party service providers will help to open up a sector currently heavily dominated by monopolies outside Europe.