Leaked Apple Documents Inadvertently Helped the Right-to-Repair Movement

Leaked Apple Documents Inadvertently Helped the Right-to-Repair Movement
Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP, Getty Images

Cyberattacks are rarely useful to anybody except cyber-attackers, but a recent ransomware incident has had some unexpected upsides for those in the right-to-repair community, new coverage from Motherboard suggests.

In April, the ransomware gang REvil announced that it had stolen blueprints for some of Apple’s newest products. The documents were allegedly obtained via a cyberattack on Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese company that manufactures parts for Apple. When the hackers’ extortion demands were not met, they leaked a limited amount of the product diagrams to the web.

If you’re struggling to see a silver lining here, consider the ongoing fight between tech giants like Apple and the loose-knit community of activists and business owners who have been struggling to obtain just this kind of data.

Right-to-repair is a grassroots movement that seeks to make it easy for consumers and small businesses to repair products that big companies make difficult or impossible to repair themselves. The goal is to give consumers more autonomy over their possessions while also cutting down on the blight of “planned obsolescence,” the practice in which manufacturers create products that are meant to be phased out, thus creating needless waste.

Large corporations like Apple have hedged against these proposals, iterating that sharing hardware manuals or diagrams like the kind that were leaked by REvil would expose “trade secrets.” This means that there is no easy roadmap for those who might want to learn how to mend their own product, should it break. Enthusiasts can reverse engineer a product once they have it, but a simple diagram would sure make this process a whole lot easier.

Louis Rossmann, owner of the Rossmann Repair Group, recently told Motherboard that the REvil cyberattack was actually a big win for people in his business. Rossmann’s company offers repairs and data retrieval for damaged or broken Apple products, such as a MacBooks and iPads. Rossmann said that the blueprints would assist with delivering better results to his customers:

“Our business relies on stuff like this leaking. This is going to help me recover someone’s data. Someone is going to get their data back today because of this…You can’t go to Apple and say ‘I will give you $US800,000 ($1,017,360) to give me this data,’” Rossmann told Vice.

Speaking with Motherboard, Rossmann clarified that he wasn’t happy about the cyberattack on Quanta, per se, but noted that there are few other ways for him to obtain the information that had been leaked:

“I’m not saying I’m in favour of people hacking into computers to get this information,” Rossmann said. “I would prefer to get this by going to Apple and giving them $US1,000 ($1,272) every year to get this information.”

Another right-to-repair proponent, Justin Ashford, owner of the Art of Repair YouTube channel, told Motherboard:

“I’m still waiting for someone to tell me legitimately what having a wiring diagram ahead of time does to hurt them, especially since they used to give it away,” Ashford said. “I’m going to use it and I’m going to help people with it.”

If there haven’t been any major legal shifts as a result of this whole conversation yet, it increasingly looks like that might be the case. Bloomberg reports that at least 20 states are now considering legislation that would bolster customers’ ability to fix their things themselves.