You’ve probably heard about how McDonald’s McFlurry machines never seem to work. Even McDonald’s has hinted it might have a problem with its ice cream dispensers. And now, according to The Wall Street Journal, the FTC is reportedly looking into why MacDonald’s ice cream machines often seem to be out of order.
Why would the Federal Trade Commission look into this frustrating and chronic problem? According to the Journal, it’s because the McDonald’s franchisees may be restricted from repairing the machines themselves. And that is something the FTC wants to know about: The FTC this summer has been ramping up its enforcement of rules about illegal repair restriction. The US agency’s focus here extends beyond McDonald’s machines, however. If you’ve ever cracked the screen on your phone or wished you could replace its battery, those repairs could fall under those guidelines too.
A recent executive order from President Joe Biden and a new policy statement from the Federal Trade Commission are both designed to help you save some money the next time you need to fix your phone.
Biden’s executive order, issued in early July, came after years of debate by advocates calling for what’s referred to as “right to repair,” a series of rules that in theory would force phone developers, manufacturers of cars and washing machines and the makers of pricey farm equipment and medical devices to publicly post the diagnostic tools and documentation they use to fix products when they break. This would allow everyday people to either fix the product themselves or go to a third-party repair shop, rather than rely on “official” authorized repair centers, which are almost always the most expensive option.
The FTC quickly followed Biden’s order with a 5-0 vote on a policy statement indicating the commission will begin to look at any warranty or repair restrictions that violate antitrust laws.
The right-to-repair movement’s been around for a while, and it’s already won victories in states like Massachusetts, where voters in 2020 approved a bill that would allow third parties access to data on cars that manufacturers typically didn’t make public.
Below are common questions about the concept of right to repair, what it means for you and what the government is doing to make right to repair a reality. (This story has been updated with new information.)
Why is the FTC looking into broken McDonald’s McFlurry ice cream machines?
According to The Wall Street Journal, the FTC contacted McDonald’s franchisees this summer to learn more about the broken ice cream machine problem.
According to the Journal, the FTC is exploring whether this could be a right to repair issue. According the Journal, “The FTC wants to know how McDonald’s reviews suppliers and equipment, including the ice cream machines, and how often restaurant owners are allowed to work on their own machines, according to a person familiar with FTC conversations with franchisees.”
What is the right to repair?
Right to repair boils down to giving users and third-party companies the necessary tools, parts and manuals to repair a product they’ve purchased, like a blender or a new laptop, on their own instead of relying on the product’s manufacturer.
Another aspect of right to repair that’s currently being discussed is forcing tech companies to design and build products that are easier to fix.
For example, Apple’s AirPod wireless earbuds are impressively tiny, which is part of their allure, but repair website iFixIt says they’re almost impossible to repair. That’s a problem when you consider that the batteries will probably need to be replaced after a couple of years. But instead of your being able to take them apart and replace the batteries, you’ll likely feel forced to just buy another pair.