Don’t throw out your iPhones just yet, though. France’s Minister for Digital Transition says the measured radiation is still “significantly lower” than what scientists consider harmful to humans, and Apple can bring the smartphone model back into compliance with “a simple update.”
In addition to halting sales, the National Frequency Agency (ANFR) is calling on Apple to “implement all available means to quickly remedy this malfunction” in the iPhone 12. If it fails to do so, Apple will have to recall the iPhone 12, the agency said Tuesday.
The announcement was made the same day Apple unveiled its iPhone 15.
Apple has disputed the ANFR’s findings, and says it has sent the agency multiple lab results — carried out in-house and by third-party labs — showing that the iPhone 12 is in compliance with EU regulations.
The ANFR regularly tests mobile phones in the French market to ensure the public are protected from exposure to electromagnetic waves, the agency says. Recently, it tested 141 phones models, including the iPhone 12, and evaluated their specific absorption rates (SAR), a measure of how much energy is absorbed by the human body when exposed to an electromagnetic field.
The iPhone 12 failed one of the two key tests. When the iPhone was held in a hand or carried in a pocket, regulators measured an SAR of 5.74 watts per kilograms, higher than the EU standard of 4 watts per kilogram.
When the iPhone was carried in a bag or kept in a jacket, it was compliant with the EU benchmark of 2 watts per kilogram absorbed by the body.
The ANFR tests phones by allowing them to transmit at maximum power for six minutes, a scenario that doesn’t “reflect the most common use of a telephone,” the agency writes on its website.
During calls, phones only transmit about half the time, when the user is speaking, and calls rarely last six minutes, the agency writes. Mobile internet or video use lasts longer, but the phone “rarely transmits more than 10% of the time,” in those instances.
Phones also don’t typically transmit at maximum power, unless the phone is “at the coverage limit,” like when it only has one bar of reception.
In an interview with France Info, Jean-Noël Barrot, the Minister for Digital Transition, sought to reassure the public that EU thresholds for radiation are “set at a level ten times lower than that at which scientific studies estimate (may be of) consequence for users.”
Regardless, “the rule is the rule,” he said and Apple has 15 days to lay out a plan for fixing the iPhone 12.
“I have every confidence that within two weeks, Apple will respond to the formal notice from the National Frequency Agency and will explain how the update can take place so that things get back to normal,” Barrot said.
In the meantime, the ANFR will “fully mobilize its agents to monitor until the update is made.”
It’s unclear why the phone, which was released in late 2020, didn’t pass the agency’s latest round of tests and why it was only that particular model.
According to Malcolm Sperrin, director of medical physics at the U.K.’s Royal Berkshire hospital group, the iPhone 12 may be emitting more radiation during “the initial stage of connection when the phone is ‘looking’ for a transmit/receive signal,” he said.
Sperrin agrees with Barrot that the issue can be resolved with a software update and the higher radiation levels are “unlikely to be of any health consequence.”
The World Health Organization stated in 2020 that “after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.”
“Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated.”
Experts have recommended that people concerned about their cellphone radiation exposure use earphones or switch to texting.
— with files from The Associated Press
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