Fairphone lessons

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Thu May 16 12:29:28 UTC 2019

On Wednesday 15. May 2019 12.51.36 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Am Dienstag 14 Mai 2019 13:24:28 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> >
> > These are presumably the same apologists for phone manufacturers trying to
> > cut warranty terms where I live: people who openly said that they bought a
> > new phone every six months, that longer warranties would make phones more
> > expensive, and that nobody needed them anyway (presumably because at six
> > months, they would sell their phone to some hapless buyer or fake up some
> > kind of insurance claim).

Just to give some more context here, the argument went that phones should have 
a substantially shorter warranty than household appliances like washing 
machines (which I think was, maybe still is, five years) despite being more 
expensive in many cases. One can argue that washing machines and other 
appliances undergo substantially more physical stress than phones, which was 
usually the reason for failure and warranty claims.

> > The problem is that we have to share a planet with idiots like this,
> There are many reasons why using Free Software with phone hardware last
> lasts longer is an advantage. I believe that some of those people can be
> convinced or persuaded to buy more Free Software and open hardware based
> products. However calling or thinking about them as "idiots" won't help
> with this. I can understand if this comes out of frustration, though.

Of course it comes out of frustration because we literally have to share a 
planet with this kind of behaviour. If such behaviour isn't idiocy then what 
is it? Selfish, destructive, wasteful, anti-social?

What happens to all the stuff that isn't sold? Does it make its way back for 
re-manufacturing or does it wander off into secondary markets where people 
might get a chance to buy it for less (because people in those markets are 

What if the units aren't sold then? Are they dismantled or recycled there or 
elsewhere? What environmental protections are there for the people doing such 
work? Does everything end up in landfill?

People who don't have time to think about such issues may not be "idiots", 
although one has to wonder what they do think about if they are buying a new 
phone every six months. But I think it is fair comment to call people doing so 
*and* actively lobbying against more responsible behaviour "idiots".

They perpetuate a system in which things are produced at incredible cost 
(beyond the price tag) for someone to be distracted with for a short while, if 
they even get into a customer's hands. And the cost of recovering the needless 
waste from this exercise is largely pushed onto others to bear, just so that 
the producers can ready yet another set of single-season products to shower 
the market with.


> > with their behaviour validating the destructive and wasteful actions of
> > corporations who are not being held responsible for the consequences of
> > their "need" to make money.
> Note that this is a common missunderstanding: Organisations (like companies
> and even charities) have to be economically viable to be able to persist and
> fullfil their "tasks". Just "making money" (or a profit) is **not the
> purpose** of most organisations in the narrower sense. Income maybe a
> necessity, though. Owners, customers, employees and other stakeholders all
> have an influence on how a company acts.

In various cases, companies use the existence of the other groups as an excuse 
for their own behaviour. They claim that shareholders demand the maximum 
returns or that customers demand the cheapest possible products. It is true 
that some shareholders and customers, particularly the former, do not care 
about anything other than their own interests. But it can be very convenient 
to point the finger at others in order to justify "business as usual".

Again, I think it is refreshing that organisations like Fairphone act in ways 
to promote more responsible production of phones, largely by prioritising 
instead of neglecting genuine concerns around the entire product lifecycle. 
And Fairphone may be a lot better than other vendors in this regard.

But given that I know relatively little about the other lifecycle issues but a 
bit more about Free Software and software maintenance issues, why should I not 
highlight areas of concern about decisions made by Fairphone? I may feel bad 
doing so (and be made to feel bad about it, too), but what if Fairphone had 
put Windows Mobile on their products instead?

Some people might then have regarded the "fair" aspects of their products as 
mere box-ticking elements in an otherwise undesirable package. And there are 
people who are annoyed at Fairphone for providing a product that runs Google 
products and accesses Google services, arguably being built for surveillance. 
What should we say to them? That their concerns are not valid or are unfair to 
the company?

I think that encouragement or advocacy is just not enough: it has to be 
accompanied with constructive criticism to let people know about deficiencies 
they may have overlooked. Otherwise, you get complacency, regressions, a 
general sense that user needs are being ignored, often in favour of some kind 
of "vision". We've seen that quite a bit in Free Software, unfortunately.

And for all the concerns about criticising organisations and a lack of 
encouragement or support, where exactly is the encouragement for initiatives 
that try and build sustainable hardware platforms for Free Software? These 
being driven by people who try and build communities around their work, who 
don't take unsustainable short-cuts just to get something into the hands of 
easily-distracted consumers, whose projects are readily overlooked because 
some big name launches some placebo initiative or vapourware and various Free 
Software advocates decide that "the market has delivered".

If we applied the same rules to our own engagement with Free Software as many 
people seem to do to related areas of concern, we would all be having to use 
proprietary software by now. Because everyone would be waiting for someone 
else to actually write the software, applauding anything that happened to come 
our way.


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