Your Devices Could Soon Have Better Software Support

Your Devices Could Soon Have Better Software Support
Image: iStock

When you buy a piece of technology – a phone, a tablet, a laptop and even a fridge – you should be guaranteed that the manufacturer will do what it can to ensure software is up to date and that it offers you the best protection. At least for a reasonable time after you walk away with the goods.

Well, the Productivity Commission has asked the Australian government to amend Australian Consumer Law to include a new consumer guarantee for manufacturers to “provide reasonable software updates for a reasonable time period after the product has been purchased, with no option to limit or exclude that guarantee”.

Basically, it has recommended the government step-in to make it law that software updates are provided for a “reasonable period”. And that your TV or phone doesn’t end up an expensive paperweight.

The recommendation was made on Wednesday by the Productivity Commission in a Right to Repair Inquiry Report. The report itself is a whopping 395 pages. Luckily, the overview is a more digestible 43 pages. It lists 16 recommendations and a handful of findings.

The Productivity Commission has been at this for a while. It kicked off its inquiry back in 2020, receiving 243 submissions and an additional 243 ‘post draft’ comments. It also held a number of public hearings. In other words, to do the entire process justice, we’d be here forever, so for now, we’re going to focus on the right to be able to update the software that runs your tech.

While it seems pretty straight forward, such a mandate requires amendment to Australian Consumer Law.

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) provides consumers with rights to obtain a remedy (that is, repair, replacement or refund) for defective products through consumer guarantees.

These guarantees are reasonably comprehensive but the Productivity Commission said our ability to access these rights could be enhanced by clarifying existing rights by explicitly requiring manufacturers to provide software updates for a reasonable period. That is, a new guarantee for software updates.

“The ACL was drafted over a decade ago — since then, an increasing number of internet-connected products with embedded software have come to market. As a result, there is uncertainty about whether the consumer guarantees cover the provision of updates for embedded software,” the report says.

The purpose of this amendment, the report explains, is to provide access to software updates that are critical to maintaining the quality (functionality, security and safety) of software enabled products, again, for a reasonable time.

“For this reason, the Commission considers that the guarantee could, at minimum, cover updates that correct operating problems and address security vulnerabilities — but should also, like the other consumer guarantees, rely on what is ‘reasonable’ as a standard,” it added.

With such amendments, the Productivity Commission also recommends the creation of a “super complaints process” that would basically be responsible for identifying and dealing with potential systemic breaches of guarantees.

The right to repair recommendations from the Productivity Commission are just that. It’s now up to the government to implement any changes and make the required amendments to Australian Consumer Law to ensure we have the right to not be blocked out of our tech by unsupported software upgrades.

“A well-functioning consumer redress system is essential for the effective operation of the consumer guarantees. It underpins consumer confidence to seek a remedy and sends a signal to businesses about the need to comply with consumer laws,” the commission said. “Reforms to improve complaint and enforcement options would improve the practical functioning of the consumer guarantees and provide consumers with increased access to remedies.”

This would require a country-wide enforcement approach and further regulatory powers afforded to the likes of the ACCC. Buh-bye being forced onto a new device because software is no longer supported.

Some of the other 12 right to repair recommendations made by the Productivity Commission include the undertaking of a mobile phone and tablet study to examine the nature of the Aussie market; research into the medical devices market in Australia; specifically delving into the watch repair market and the feasibility of mandatory warranty text being included on devices by manufacturers.