Companies are using sneaky software and legal tricks to make you endlessly pay for stuff you already bought

Someone holding a phone in the center and all of their belongings disappearing

Modern software allows manufacturers to tether users to them, forever. That means you may endlessly pay for stuff you already boughtTyler Le/Insider

Companies are taking away your ability to actually own the stuff you buy

Andy Harding has been running his small electronics-repair shop, Salem Techsperts, in Salem, Massachusetts, for the past eight years. He does steady business fixing phones for college students and nurses from the nearby hospital. But soon after the release of the iPhone 13 in September 2021, Harding noticed a minor change to Apple’s software that he thought might shut down his small shop for good.

One of the most frequent repairs Harding does — and one of his biggest revenue drivers — is fixing cracked iPhone screens. But Apple added a new feature to the latest model that would detect when the display was swapped, including screen repairs, and then disable the FaceID feature. The shift freaked out the owners of many repair shops, including Harding.

“People pay good money for a phone with FaceID, and they want it to work,” Harding told me recently. “Broken iPhone screens are the number-one repair for shops like mine. I couldn’t survive without that part of the business.”

Eventually, Apple rolled out a software update that allowed FaceID to work after a screen repair. But the phone still warns users the screen is not genuine unless they use an “Apple-authorized” repair provider. But why does anyone need Apple’s blessing to fix their phone? You already paid for it — you own the phone, you should be able to fix it on your terms.

Apple isn’t the only company to put restrictions on goods that people have already bought. As more devices in our lives run on software, manufacturers have started to exert more control over their products even after the customer has taken them home. In some cases, companies force customers to use their repair services, disabling the product if they try to fix it themselves. In other instances, corporations require people to pay for ongoing subscription to access basic features of the goods.

Modern software allows manufacturers to tether product users to them, forever. Companies are just beginning to monetize this control, with…