How the EU Champions Consumer Empowerment

The European Union has, in recent years, been a great driving force for general improvements in the world of consumer tech. From making high-quality technology accessible to a wider audience to giving people greater control over their devices, EU lawmakers have become the people’s favorites when taking control of their tech from the companies that create them to the hands of the people who own them.

How This Works

The EU joins many member states in Europe to form united decisions that apply to all these member states. The European Parliament and the European Commission, both parts of the EU’s government, create laws and policies that determine the political direction and priorities of the EU. When they create a law, it is to apply to all EU member states, bar none.

Now when these laws relate to companies and how they conduct their business, the companies have two options: either to stop operating in these member countries or to comply. The EU has 27 member states with a higher income per capita than most of the world, meaning their citizens are most likely to buy the products and services these companies provide, so halting operations is not an option. What’s more, is that creating different versions of the same hardware for different regions can be very difficult to manage for these companies, and so they are forced to apply these rules to products that will sell across the world, and so everyone benefits from the decisions that the EU makes. This has led to some very wise decisions.

One Charger For All!

One of the most impactful decisions that the EU made came towards the end of last year. It has been a common annoyance to carry different chargers for one’s laptop, phone, headphones, tablet, and other such devices because they all use different ports to charge. A new hope came with the introduction of the USB-C standard, which was more efficient and durable and capable of carrying greater amounts of power and data than any standard introduced before. However, many manufacturers continued to use older ports to save on manufacturing costs and even to use them on their budget products so consumers would be more incentivized to purchase their more expensive models. Worst of all was Apple, who insisted on using their decade-old lighting USB standard, which has become very dated and limited in its capabilities.

The EU made it mandatory for any device capable of being charged by a port to use USB-C. This would make carrying multiple portable devices very convenient and bring all consumer products to the latest tech world.

My Tech, My Choice

Many users have been advocating for the “Right to Repair” movement for a while. Many companies make it mandatory by placing hardware and software blocks on their devices to prevent anyone from using replacement parts made and fitted by anyone other than the company itself. This allows them to charge heinous amounts for a simple screen or battery repair and is also very inconvenient for people that live far from their service stations or in countries where these services are not provided in the first place. The Right to Repair movement demands that these companies stop placing these unnecessary bars and provide free access to replacement parts so that consumers may use and repair their devices however they choose.

The EU recently made it mandatory for these devices to allow repair by independent vendors, to provide replacement parts, and to make the devices themselves easier to repair and their parts easier to replace. This was a joyous occasion for advocates of the Right to Repair and climate activists since many of these devices, when damaged or in need of repair, are thrown away and not recycled.

Concerns About These Decisions

Many members of the tech industry, and most vocally, spokespersons of Apple, have said that the level of control that the EU chooses to exercise over tech is concerning primarily because the main driver for improvement in technology has been the freedom to do anything in any way possible. With the imposition of these limits and the phrasing of many of these laws, while they facilitate positive change, they may also hinder it once the current “highest standards” become surpassed by better and better alternatives.

It is also very likely that in 2024, once the charging port law comes into effect, Apple’s iPhones will not ship with a lightning or USB-C port, but rather, they will opt for a portless iPhone instead. It is very difficult, and rather impossible for a piece of legislature to encompass every possibility when it comes to such decisions, but for now, it is safe to say that the work that the EU is doing is a very positive step in the right direction, and if they are free to do this now, then when the time comes to change these laws, they may hopefully be depended upon to take the right decision once again.

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