This article was translated and adapted from HOP’s website

The French courts officially launched an investigation into Apple’s practice of part pairing, following an official complaint by HOP – a member of the Right to Repair Campaign, who advocates for sustainable and repairable products in France – in December 2022, accusing the US tech-company of premature obsolescence and limiting right to repair.

We welcome the launch of an investigation by the French prosecutors  and hope that it will allow the French Competition, Consumer Affairs, and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) Authority to challenge the legality of part-pairing. . 

Apple was previously fined 25 million euro in France following a previous complaint filed by HOP. The so-called “Batterygate” is now exposing Apple to another record fine in the United Kingdom (UK).

A court claim for premature obsolescence and the creation of barriers to repair

HOP’s new complaint against Apple, filed the 7th of December 2022 makes reference to recently created infractions, aimed at combating premature obsolescence and ensuring the right to repair— which cover the act of purposely designing non-repairable products.

In its documented complaint , HOP alerts about the damaging impact of “part pairing”, which is becoming increasingly widespread. Part-pairing consists of associating the serial number of a component to the one of the motherboard of a device using software. This enables the original manufacturer to prevent unauthorised dealers or repairers from providing repair or to remotely downgrade the performance of a smartphone if it has been repaired with non-original (i.e. not from the original manufacturer) parts.

HOP believes that Apple might have put in place several obstacles to limit repair activities contrary to what the company seems to indicate in its marketing material. Most notably, its “Self Service Repair” program appears expensive and preposterous (for example, it requires ordering two sets of tools weighing a total of 35 kg simply to replace a battery).

The huge environmental and social impact of part-pairing

Part-pairing, the unavailability of spare parts at affordable prices and reasonable delivery time to independent professional service providers, or premature failures after software updates are amongst the list of seemingly shady practices which lead us to believe that the manufacturer is trying to sell ever more devices at the expense of consumers and the environment. According to HOP, these tactics not only breach the right to repair but also limit refurbishment activities and more generally restrict the development of circular economy.

Yet repair and reuse activities are priorities for the French and European circular economy strategies and are considered mainstream in sectors such as home appliances or automotives with easy access to generic and/or used spare parts and repair activities carried out outside of official networks. As a reminder, using a smartphone for one extra year reduces its carbon footprint by 25% and purchasing refurbished can cut its environmental impact by 8 and reduce cost by 75% compared to buying new.

Having an issue with your smartphone? Let HOP know

HOP is making two forms available for consumers who have already experienced an issue with their smartphone, irrespective of their brand. If this applies to you and you speak French, let them know: 

Banning part-pairing once and for all at European level

As Right to Repair Europe, we have been demanding that EU institutions ban part-pairing for a long time. Last week, we celebrated that manufacturers will no longer be able to use the unfair practice of part-pairing for batteries, and we advocate for this level of ambition for all spare parts.

So far, the EU Parliament has failed to add a clear ban on anti-repair practices such as part-pairing to the ecodesign framework regulation (ESPR). Members of the European Parliament have a last chance to do so ahead of the plenary vote on the 10th of July and we are urging them to do so.

We are also asking the Members of the European Parliament currently working on the Right to Repair proposal to protect consumers from these unfair practices, which hurt both their pockets and the environment.