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Broken McDonald’s ice cream machines are such a persistent problem that it’s got the federal government asking questions. The Federal Trade Commission wants to know how often McDonald’s ice cream machines break and when employees are allowed to repair them. The FTC sent letters with the questions to several McDonald’s franchise owners in early summer, according to The Wall Street Journal.
State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.
The McFlurry is a notoriously difficult item to purchase from McDonald’s. The machines that make the frozen treat break down constantly and need frequent cleaning. It’s such a big problem that a programmer built a bot that tells you if the machines in your area are serving up tasty treats.McFlurry machines are complicated pieces of equipment designed so that only certified technicians employed by the Taylor, the manufacturer, can service them. When one breaks, even if it’s a simple fix, the McDonald’s franchise has to call in a special repair person to fix it. A company called Kytch invented a device that lets franchise owners do basic repairs and diagnostics without calling in the expensive repair person. According to Motherboard’s reporting, some techs and McDonald’s franchises know how to bypass safety features to get the machine operational.Kytch busted Taylor’s monopoly on repairing the ice cream machines and, according to Kytch, Taylor retaliated by stealing its devices and reverse engineering them. Kytch won a legal victory in early August when a judge awarded it a temporary restraining order against Taylor and ordered the ice cream machine manufacturer to return ill-gotten Kytch devices.
The McDonald's ice cream machine problem is a right to repair issue. Franchises pay for a McFlurry machine and then have to keep paying Taylor to keep it running. It’s an issue that mirrors Apple charging exorbitant amounts of basic iPhone repairs or John Deere forcing farmers to use their authorized dealers to get a repair.In July, Joe Biden signed an executive order that detailed his administration's plans to make it easier for everyone to repair their own stuff. Later that month, the FTC formally adopted a right-to-repair platform and promised to investigate companies for possible violations of antitrust and anti-competition laws. According to the FTC letter viewed by The Wall Street, it appears that looking into what’s going on with the ice cream machines is part of that push.The letter specifically asked McDonald’s how it reviews supplies and equipment and how often restaurant owners can work on their own machines. It’s still early days though. “The existence of a preliminary investigation does not indicate the FTC or its staff have found any wrongdoing,” the FTC letter said, according to The Wall Street Journal.“Nothing is more important to us than delivering on our high standards for food quality and safety, which is why we work with fully vetted partners that can reliably provide safe solutions at scale,” McDonald’s said in a statement provided to Motherboard. “McDonald’s has no reason to believe we are the focus of an FTC investigation.”The FTC declined Motherboard’s request for a comment.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement from McDonald’s.