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FTC warns companies that void warranties over using 3rd party services

The days of reading the small print to see whether a repair or new part for your ailing laptop will void its warranty may be coming to an end. The FTC has officially warned several companies that their policies of ceasing support when a user attempts “non-approved” repairs or servicing are likely illegal.

It’s the sort of thing where if you buy a device or car from a company, they inform you that unless you use approved, often internally branded parts, you’re voiding the warranty and your item will no longer be supported by the company.

The idea is that a company doesn’t want to be on the hook when a user replaces an old, perfectly good stick of RAM with a new, crappy one and then comes crying to them when the computer won’t boot. Or, in a more dire situation, replaces the brakes with some off-brand ones, which then fail and cause an accident. So there’s a reason these restrictions exist.

Unfortunately, they’ve come to encompass far more than these dangerous cases; perhaps you replace the RAM and then the power supply burns out — that’s not your fault, but because you didn’t use approved RAM the company takes no responsibility for the failure. The result is consumers end up having to buy components or servicing at inflated prices from “licensed” or “approved” dealers.

“Provisions that tie warranty coverage to the use of particular products or services harm both consumers who pay more for them as well as the small businesses who offer competing products and services,” explained Thomas Pahl, from the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in the announcement.

The agency gave several examples of offending language in customer agreements, blanking out the names of the companies. Ars Technica was quick to connect these with the major companies they correspond to: Hyundai, Nintendo, and Sony. Here are the statements the FTC didn’t like, with the company names in bold where they were blank before.

  • The use of Hyundai parts is required to keep your . . . manufacturer’s warranties and any extended warranties intact.
  • This warranty shall not apply if this product . . . is used with products not sold or licensed by Nintendo.
  • This warranty does not apply if this product . . . has had the warranty seal on the PS4 altered, defaced, or removed.

It’s one thing to say, don’t overclock your PS4 or we won’t cover it. It’s quite another to say if the warranty seal has been “defaced” then we won’t cover it.

“Such statements generally are prohibited by the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act,” the FTC announcement reads, and in addition “may be deceptive under the FTC Act.” The companies have 30 days to modify their policies.

This could be a major win for consumers: more repairs and service locations would be allowed under warranty, and modders of game consoles may be able to indulge their hobby without trying to hide it from the manufacturer. That will depend on the new phrasing of the companies’ policies, but this attention from the FTC will at the very least nudge things in the right direction.

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Facebook bug exposed up to 6.8M users’ unposted photos to apps

Reset the “days since the last Facebook privacy scandal” counter, as a Facebook has just revealed a Photo API bug gave app developers too much access to the photos of up to 5.6 million users. The bug allowed apps users had approved to pull their timeline photos to also receive their Facebook Stories, Marketplace photos, and most worryingly, photos they’d uploaded to Facebook but never shared. Facebook says the bug ran for 12 days from September 13th to September 25th. Facebook initially didn’t disclose when it discovered the bug, but in response to TechCrunch’s inquiry, a spokesperson says that it was discovered and fixed on September 25th. They say it took time for the company to investigate whch apps and people were impacted, and build and translate the warning notification it will send impacted users. The delay could put Facebook at risk of GDPR fines for not promptly disclosing the issue within 72 hours that can go up to 20 million pounds or 4 percent of annual global revenue. Facebook provided merely a glib “We’re sorry this happened” in terms of an apology. It will provide tools next week for app developers to check if they were impacted and it will work with them to delete photos they shouldn’t have. The company plans to notify people it suspects may have been impacted by the bug via Facebook notification that will direct them to the Help Center where they’ll see if they used any apps impacted by the bug. It’s recommending users log into apps to check if they have wrongful photo access. Here’s a look at a mockup of warning notifcation users will see: Facebook tells me the bug did not impact photos privately shared through Messenger. The bug wouldn’t have exposed photos users never uploaded to Facebook from their camera roll or computer. But photos users uploaded but either decided not to post, that got interrupted by connectivity issues, or that they otherwise never finished sharing could have winded up with app developers. The privacy failure will further weaken confidence that Facebook is a reponsible steward for our private data. It follows Facebook’s massive security breach that allowed hackers to scrape 30 million people’s information back in September. There was also November’s bug allowing websites to read users’ Likes, October’s bug that mistakenly deleted people’s Live videos, and May’s bug that changed people’s status update composer privacy settings. It increasingly looks like the social network has gotten too big for the company to secure. Curiously, Facebook discovered the bug on September 25th, the same day as its 30 million user breach. Perhaps it kept a lid on the situation in hopes of not creating an even bigger scandal. That it keeps photos you partially uploaded but never posted in the first place is creepy, but the fact that these could be exposed to third-party developers is truly unacceptable. And it seems Facebook is so tired of its failings that it couldn’t put forward even a seemingly heartfelt apology is telling. This company’s troubles are not only souring users on Facebook, but employees and the tech industry as large as well. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress earlier this year that “We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.” What does Facebook deserve at this point?

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