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Opinion: Serious problems with Apple authorized repair

By David Balaban

I want to talk about the idea that authorized repair is good. From my experience, that is not true. Authorized repair is the same thing as sales. Authorized repair is manufacturer-controlled repair. 

The authorizing entity – the manufacturer is driven to sell more products and parts in the disposal economy. Authorized repair is heavily controlled and restricted, and again, it is largely just sales.

What authorized repair lobbyists say

Lobbyists try to stress safety and security. Let us see what they typically say. For example, the Apple lobbyist went to Nebraska several years ago and told that Nebraska is going to become a Mecca for hackers.

Other cases read remarkably similar. For example, on the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers website we read:

“Authorized service providers are specially trained to service specific appliance brands and models. This means they have access to both the knowledge and the necessary parts, technical information and, in some cases, software to fix what’s wrong with the appliance.”

Important note: Free access to the knowledge and the necessary parts are things the independent repair services want to get with their right to repair initiative.

Let us go on and see what letters sent to lawmakers. For example, LG wrote:

“LG works to not only ensure that authorized repair providers are properly trained and certified, we also take necessary precautions so that when a repair provider enters a private home that the homeowner, as well as the property, are safe and secure.”

Then there’s Lisa McCabe, she goes around all the same things. She represents CTIA which is a trade association representing the wireless communications industry in the United States. Lisa McCabe stressed the same things too:

“Authorized repair assures safe repair as authorized repairers have the proper training and qualifications to ensure the repairs are done properly and safely.”

So, in all these messages that the opposition is trying to deliver, they want you to believe that authorized equals safety, reliability, high-trained personnel.

Apple certification process

I would argue that authorized repair often means just sales from the entity whose main goal is to make you go and buy their new product. Why am I saying this? The reason is I have recently become an Apple certified iOS Technician. In their certificate, Apple tells that to have this designation, the person, “Has demonstrated the knowledge to perform the troubleshooting and repair of iOS devices.”

So, certified technicians have the necessary knowledge. But what is needed to get this certificate? I managed to do it with zero preparation, other than some general knowledge on how to fix iPhones. I may say that I have extremely limited knowledge, especially about the inner mechanisms of how iOS works. However, I am now a certified iOS technician. I have very limited knowledge about how Apple views the repairing process as they do not really repair devices.

So, how can you pass the certification? I sat down and paid $20 and took the online test, which was open source. When I saw the question, I Googled it or asked people around me. I passed it on the first try with no training, no special qualifications. I did not read all the training materials.

This certificate is a very insignificant piece of paper. Anybody can get it. I want to also confess that in order to get the certification, I had to lie. Apple asked me: “Which of the following is not a replaceable part on the iPhone?” I had to tell that it is the front-facing camera. However, the front-facing camera gets replaced every day. It is totally repairable. However, in the eyes of the manufacturer, it is not a replaceable part because authorized manufacturer driven repair is often sales. It is not repair and it is not in your best interest.

And here is what Apple says about the benefits of being an Apple-certified technician. Funny, there is one and only benefit:

“Apple certification website gives you private online access to your personal certification and exam information and allows you to update your contact information. All correspondence from us will be based on the information in this database, so please make sure it is up to date.”

So, the only benefit is to print out this stupid $20 piece of paper. This paper makes you Apple-certified.

Please go back and look again at those statements provided at the beginning of this article. They say that authorized means safe repair and proper training and qualifications. In reality, you can get it in several minutes, with a little bit of googling and $20. That is ridiculous.

Authorized repair jobs

What if I wanted to turn this piece of paper into a job and go and actually do this authorized repair? I would never do it as I like to be free, make decisions in customers’ best interest and help them figure out whether anything should be repaired or not.

Let us look and see what it would take to get a job at an Apple authorized place. It would often be at Best Buy. Apple partnered with Best Buy and made it an Apple authorized service provider. You can see it on their website. They say they repair devices: “We are your place for Apple authorized service and repairs. Same-day iPhone repair is available at all Best Buy stores.”

They stress the word repair plenty of times on that page. Let us see what happens if you try to get a job there. You can search for Apple jobs near you at Best Buy. You will get many search results with weird job titles there like Apple Mobility Pro, Apple Mobile Master. If you click on these, you will see that these are totally sales positions.

Let us take a look at the job description and see what types of qualifications you would need to translate the $20 certification into authorized repair. The job description says:

“Apple master consultation agent is a brand ambassador, solutions expert who manages the check-in and check-out experience and helps customers find the complete solution that works for them.”

It looks like you are going to be partially a receptionist and partially a salesperson. They use sales words like: “the complete solution that works for you.” It sounds like: “Do you have a problem with your phone? I know how to fix that. Here is a new phone.”

They try not to use the word “sales,” but they act as salespeople. Further, in that job description, you can read that: “Apple master consultation agent coaches the sales team.” That is sales. Nothing is saying about screwdriver skills or data recovery or malware removal knowledge. And further, in the same job description, you can find that: “Apple master consultation agent ensures that no customer never goes unserved or underserved.” I think that they mean “undersold.”

This is not repair. This is not safe repair. This is sales. Authorized repair equals sales for the manufacturer. That is my talking point. Let us get out there and lobby for the right to repair. 

David Balaban is a computer security researcher with over 17 years of experience in malware analysis and antivirus software evaluation. David runs and projects that present expert opinions on contemporary information security matters, including social engineering, malware, penetration testing, threat intelligence, online privacy, and white hat hacking. David has a strong malware troubleshooting background, with a recent focus on ransomware countermeasures.

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Steve is the founder and former publisher of Apple World Today and has authored a number of books about Apple products. He's an avid photographer, an FAA-licensed drone pilot, and a really bad guitarist. Steve and his wife Barb love to travel everywhere!