Planned obsolescence is a widely criticized commercial practice by which manufacturers intentionally build in the expiry of their products so that consumers will be forced to replace them sooner than should be necessary.
Consumers universally loath planned obsolescence and one group in one country has recently come to the forefront in a campaign for consumer protection.
Headquartered in France, Halte a l’Obsolescence Programmee (Stop Planned Obsolescence or HOP for short) has been instrumental in pushing for legislation in that country to punish manufacturers who practice planned obsolescence. The organization’s website at halteobsolescence.org is only available in French and since I do not speak that language I have to rely on secondary sources as I write this column. The Japan Times provided some good news coverage in English and if you continue reading you will learn why one company in Japan cares about what is happening.
Back in France, landmark legislation passed in 2015 known as “Hamon’s Law” is one of the first in the world to attempt to control unethical planned obsolescence by product manufactures. The law, named after former Socialist minister Benoit Hamon, states that any company found to be deliberately shortening the life of its products can be fined up to five percent of its annual sales. Moreover, the law includes penalties of up to two years in jail for company executives.
Hamon’s Law is now being put to the test. The Japanese printer manufacturer Epson is currently the target of French prosecutors who have opened a probe into claims that it was tricking consumers into changing ink cartridges before they were empty. If the initial inquiry finds enough evidence for a trial this could lead to the first prosecution for planned obsolescence. HOP has also filed legal complaints against printer manufacturers Brother, Canon, and Hewlett Packard, and also Apple.
Apple is already the target of a class action lawsuit in the United States over its admission that it intentionally slows down the speed of older models of iPhones as their batteries age. Apple’s excuse is that it needs to do this to conserve the phone’s battery life. A lot of French iPhone owners are calling this a violation of Hamon’s law and want to see some Apple executives spend time behind bars with only an old iPhone 4 to use.
Epson categorically denies any wrongdoing, but the case of Apple could prove a little thornier in a French court. Apple has already admitted its guilt by publicly stating that it intentionally slowed down its older model iPhones. Whoops!
Even if the companies are found guilty of violating the French law it is not clear if the courts there would seek extradition of Apple’s or Epson’s corporate executives. Until this situation is a little closer to being resolved, the CEOs for those companies might consider taking their vacations to some destination other than the French Riviera.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico. The opinions expressed are his own. He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.