While you’ve been busy following the latest on Brexit and the shenanigans of American politicians, you may have missed the news about a legal initiative that has been advancing across the United States which, if eventually passed, would alleviate the financial stress of those seeking to fix their messed-up electronic devices. Titled The Right to Repair Act, the initiative has thus far been introduced in seventeen different state legislatures and seeks to reduce repair costs by forcing manufacturers to provide manuals and spare parts to third party repair businesses. Naturally, large-scale manufacturers are unhappy about such legislation and lobby against it, with Apple spearheading the attempt to kill the bill. As owners of expensive electronic devices, we ought to acquaint ourselves with the details of the Right to Repair Act as well and understand what truly lies behind the tech giants’ campaign to thwart it.
Earlier this month, CBS reporters set out to investigate the unscrupulous practices of Apple’s repair services (AKA the Genius Bar, AKA where I have nervous breakdowns), and explore the agenda of the Right to Repair movement. As an undercover CBS reporter takes his malfunctioning Macbook to a Genius Bar in Toronto, the Genius tells him that fixing the screen would total at roughly $1,200 (Canadian, but still) and advises him that he may as well purchase a new computer as the cost would end up being similar. The reporter then takes the same laptop to Louis Rossmann, an owner of a small repair shop in Manhattan and a member of the Right to Repair movement. Upon examining the computer, Louis takes several minutes to fix the damaged screen and tells the reporter he would not charge more than $100 for such a repair job and concedes that given the simplicity of the case, he may have not charged him at all. It seems, then, that by overestimating repair costs, tech giants cajole us into purchasing new devices while our old ones are still perfectly functional.
The CBS reporter’s next stop was at the headquarters of IFIXIT, North America’s third largest third party repair business located in Southern California. The company checks broken devices, diagnoses recurring problems and develops methods to fix them. They sell their repair tools and manuals online. The company’s owner, Kyle Wiens (who’s also a leading spokesman for the Right to Repair movement), explains that the movement’s main goal is to take some of the control over products from the manufacturers and put it in the hands of the owner. “For manufacturers to say ‘we’re making a product … and we’re going to control every aspect of it that happens after the fact’ is complete lunacy”, says Wiens. As an example of how Apple retains complete control over its products, Wiens reveals the company’s recent ‘trick’ of inserting fake-home-button detectors, which make the iPhone shut down the minute it recognises a ‘non-authorised’ home button that wasn’t manufactured by Apple. “It would be as if you’re driving in your car and had changed one of the tiers and all of a sudden Tesla pushes out a software update and your car stops driving, because of the ‘off the market’ tiers”, Wiens adds.
It appears that one of the main impediments to the Right to Repair Act is an intellectual property law which prohibits third party businesses from importing repair parts or publishing schematics and manuals created by a manufacturer. Both Rossmann and IFIXIT have faced recurring threats by Apple for sharing schematics and manuals online, saying they will be sued for $150,000 per copyrights violation. Yet, despite the vehement opposition of tech giants and the laws they rely on to buttress their onslaught on the Right to Repair Act, the movement appears to be gaining steam across the country, as more and more legislatures schedule discussions on the matter. “The moment one state passes [the Right to Repair Act]… the dam is going to burst,” says Wiens, “Because manufacturers aren’t going to provide products differently in one jurisdiction. They want to simplify their operations.”
The Right to Repair Act is certainly good news for us consumers, and could potentially take some of the power away from tech companies and hand it back to us. That being said, perhaps it isn’t enough to leave it up to legislatures and die hards such as Rossmann to alter the consumer-conglomerate dynamics for us. Perhaps an important part of the solution would be to educate people more thoroughly about the inner-workings of our precious devices. Like math, English, and science, basic knowledge of device operation has become a must in one’s skills set. After all, a well-informed society would be harder to ‘fool’ and more likely to demand reasonable and fair treatment by tech giants and manufacturers.
On May 30, EE launched the U.K.’s next generation of internet interconnectivity 5th Generation (5G) with a secret gig by Stormzy in Tower Bridge, London. For the launch of a new internet, this was quite a bizarre and dystopian/utopian display—depending on which side you land on.
5G was first brought to my attention through conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who stated on a podcast with Joe Rogan that “5G causes massive mutation and cancer” and with that 5G quickly became the internet’s new favourite conspiracy—but what exactly is 5G and who exactly is saying it could harm us?
With 5G, we will be stepping fully into a new area of real-time response time online. We are moments away from being able to download HD movies in seconds, real-time communication in other languages and seamless lag-free gaming, but the benefits of 5G don’t stop there. When I say faster, they predict it as much as 1000 times faster than 4G. If our phones weren’t already an extension of our ‘selves’, this is taking it to the next step.
5G has been speculated to be beneficial for robotics such as driverless cars through to the healthcare industry for quickly transmitting images and expanding telemedicine. Additionally, it will expand on the notion of ‘smart homes’, meaning it will allow for devices to speak to one another by quickening data transmission.
Once considered science fiction, 5G will also work to rapidly increase AI production and expansion. 5G will give us access to more data at significantly faster speeds, resulting in devices having a better ability to understand their surroundings—in other words, 5G will give context to AI.
EE has not just ‘switched 5G on’, it has actually been tested in the U.K. since 2015. The timeline for wireless connectivity is as follows: 1G was the mobile technology of the early 1990s, 2G was the first system capable of carrying text messages between users, and internet on our mobiles as we know it today is 3G which launched in 2003, followed by 4G in 2012. Reportedly the 4G rollout was a disaster, and U.K. residents can still only access 4G networks 53 percent of the time, making the U.K. the worst place for 4G coverage in Europe.
Furthering the 5G timeline, in September 2015 the University of Surrey opened its 5G Innovation Centre in Basingstoke—a test bed for 5G. The hunger for better data is strong, so much so that the U.K. government spent £75 million on the Basingstoke site and predicted that £6.8 billion is reserved for 5G in total.
Elon Musk has also played a big part in the 5G rollout, with plans for his company SpaceX to produce a Starlink constellation of around 12,000 satellites with the ability to deliver high-speed internet to people at an affordable price. In early May, Musk shared on his Instagram that 60 satellites have just been launched to start this mission.
Which brings us to today, with many wifi companies worried 5G’s reported speed will kill them off completely. With all the impressive pros, come also many concerns with 5G. Over 200 scientists and physicians who have researched the biological effects of radiofrequency radiation have signed the 5G appeal, calling for a cap on the use of the new technology.
The main areas of concern are interference issues, surveillance, and health risks. 5G uses millimetre wave radio transmissions (28GHz frequencies), which has roughly a tenth of the range of standard 4G. Therefore, this is resulting in a lot more masts, satellites and antennas needed to account for the short travel distance and provide clear reception. Apparently, 5G even has trouble passing through trees.
As for surveillance issues, many people are speculating a super-connected world will also be super susceptible to cyber attacks. We have already experienced ransomware, malware, crypto-jacking, identity theft, and data breaches, which arguably will only get worse with 5G.
Finally, the development of this new technology has sparked fear that 5G radiation could have adverse health effects. In April 2019, Geneva, Switzerland and Brussels, Belgium blocked a 5G trial because of radiation laws.
There are multiple speculations online through #stop5G and #5Gremedies, with a Facebook group founded by John Kuhles, Dutch UFO researcher. Kuhles is predicting symptoms such as hot flashes, blurred vision, vertigo, irregular or skipped heartbeats, unexplained pains, ringing in one or both ears, extreme fatigue or extreme energy bursts, nausea and flu-like symptoms, also known as ‘microwave sickness’. However, his website was criticised for fake news of 5G attacking and killings birds in the Netherlands alongside other propaganda.
In the U.S., Senator Patrick Colbeck said he believes that unregulated Wireless Radiation represents the number one environmental issue of our day—perhaps it’s important to note that Colbeck is also antivaccine. While in the U.K., conspiracy theorist David Icke expressed his concern that 5G millimetre wave technologies are used to scatter crowds and that it could potentially be used against us as a weapon.
So what now? 5G is here and has been here for a while. Later this year, it will launch across the busiest parts of the U.K. up until 2020. Overall, it is impossible to predict what new technologies can come out of this hyper-connectivity but what we can say is that the potential applications of 5G are numerous and exciting. Let’s just wait and see if we ever get ‘microwave sickness’.