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New cybercrimes law failed to address 'white-collar' offences.

The new Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act 2018 ignored one major crime: Planned obsolescence of electronic gadgets mdash the deliberate design to ensure products break down after a period determined by the manufacturer instead of expiry due to the normal wear and tear.Although we are now used buying gadgets that do not last long or cannot be repaired, what many consumers do not know is that manufacturers design these gadgets to be irreparable and to malfunction sooner rather than later to force us to buy more or replace them often.

It is nearly a century since similar complacency by developed countries and consumer naivety allowed the Phoebus cartel to escape criminal liability for planned obsolesce. In 1924, light bulb manufacturers formed the cartel that agreed to limit the lifespan of bulbs to 1,000 hours and use a standardised testing laboratory to enforce the rule that no bulb lasts more than 1,000 hours.

ELECTRONIC GADGETSThis white-collar crime is considered by economics historians as the birth of planned obsolescence of electronic gadgets.The Centennial Light, a bulb that has been lighting continuously for 115 years in Livermore, California, is the best evidence for capitalisms sin of planned obsolescence.

Profits from bulb making are increased by reducing the lifespan of bulbs to encourage repeat sales.Kenyan consumers face a similar problem with mobile phones and computers.

However, planned obsolesce has not been criminalised in many countries because it is generally far less visible than conventional crimes. In fact, its victims are not, in most cases, aware that a crime has been perpetrated against them.

It seems the computers and mobile phones we buy today are equipped with kill chips programmed to disable the gadget after a period determined by the manufacturer. For example, mobile phones sold 10 years ago lasted for a while but todays phones die with batteries.

SENSATIONAL CRIMESWhat the cybercrimes law criminalises are the sensational crimes committed by common people.When consumers complained about short lifespans for electronic gadgets, France was the first country to act: It criminalised selling products with planned obsolescence there.

The French law defines planned obsolescence as the range of techniques used by a company responsible for placing a product on the market to deliberately reduce the lifespan of a product to increase replacement rates. Manufacturers are required to display how long their appliances will last and for how long spare parts for the product will be available locally.

SOFTWARE UPDATESIn fact, leading brands have been sued for using software updates to slow down their phones, not providing repairs and lack of replacement batteries for their handsets.Reining in planned obsolesce will not only protect consumers but also reduce electronic waste that is poisoning our environment.

Planned obsolesce is a corporate crime. But I think the Act does not criminalise planned obsolescence because, as a nation, we have developed this bad tradition of ignoring white-collar crime since the offenders have access to power.

David Katiambo, lecturer, Technical University of Kenya, Nairobi.

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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Date:May 28, 2018
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