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iPhone 12 Sales Blocked in France over Radiation Levels

Reuters writes:

Apple defended its iPhone 12 model on Wednesday after a French watchdog ordered a halt to its sales citing breaches of European Union radiation exposure limits.

Apple said in a statement the iPhone 12, launched in 2020, was certified by multiple international bodies as compliant with global radiation standards, that it had provided several Apple and third-party lab results proving the phone’s compliance to the French agency, and that it was contesting its findings.

Setting aside Apple’s contention that the iPhone 12 does meet the EU standards, it’s odd that France’s Agence Nationale des Fréquences (ANFR) would focus on a three-year-old phone that is likely Apple’s slowest-selling model, given that it is the oldest but not the cheapest. I see three possibilities:

  • Apple convinces ANFR to accept the existing certifications, or ANFR switches to a different testing methodology that agrees with Apple’s results.
  • ANFR requires Apple to reduce the iPhone 12’s power in a software update.
  • Apple stops iPhone 12 sales in Europe, directing price-sensitive buyers to the third-generation iPhone SE or the iPhone 13. Which will happen anyway with the arrival of the iPhone 15.

The more interesting question is if newer iPhone models also exceed European standards under ANFR’s testing approach, which Reuters said assumes direct skin contact without layers of cloth between the device and the user. That could force Apple to reduce the power of its cellular radios throughout Europe, potentially reducing iPhone call quality and data throughput.

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Comments About iPhone 12 Sales Blocked in France over Radiation Levels

Notable Replies

  1. Is it possible Apple has over time (through software updates) changed the emitter power levels on the 12? Is it possible the original measurements verified indeed limits not exceeded, but that ANFR now simply took it upon themselves to remeasure a 12? Perhaps precisely to check if after a couple years software changes had influenced output levels? Is it perhaps also possible that a lot of certification/testing bodies simply don’t routinely retest already certified/tested devices and that’s why this one’s now sticking out? I’ve read that the 12 mini didn’t fail when retested, just the 12. But who knows, maybe other devices would fail a retest too? And if so, perhaps retesting/recertification should become more commonplace.

  2. Oh good… Reuters has done good work on this.

    There’s a question of whether the problem started in a subsequent software update, which would explain why the iPhone 12 passed tests initially and also why ANFR is making a fuss now. But regardless, it seems that Apple can fairly easily fix it in France and likely the rest of the EU.

  3. (Quick Sidebar: I always found it interesting how much of the attention on cell phone emissions faded quickly when the modern “smartphone” era got everyone excited about having a virtual pocket pc with touchscreen. I would cringe every time I saw a woman jogging with their phone tucked inside their sports bra.)

  4. Am I reading this right? We don’t get the fix in the US because no one is making Apple do it here?

  5. There’s no telling exactly what Apple is doing or needs to do in the US—nothing I’ve seen has given any details.

  6. In my limited exposure to French safety regulations, they often significantly exceed those of other countries, including other EU countries. Without more details, I wouldn’t lose sleep over this.

  7. For what it’s worth, I decided not to put this in the TidBITS issue this week, mostly because Apple said it would address the problem, so it’s sort of non-news. But it’s also likely that there’s more to the story, as several have suggested, such that teasing out the reality would take more effort than it’s worth.

  8. I agree with that reasoning, Adam.

    As always, my question is why does Apple not allow customers the choice? Add a toggle for signal power. Most people would leave it in default position, but those who are aware and need it can use it. Signal power is not a security concern.

    (On another currently relevant example, why not allow us the choice to NOT auto-load media in iMessage before we even open the app? That could eliminate a large number of these vulnerabilities from hitting millions of users before a patch can even be created.)

  9. It sounds like a great idea on the surface, but…

    • If you offer users too many choices, you will confuse people. Many will go setting options without understanding them and will later complain to Apple about their lousy product, refusing to acknowledge that they caused their own problems.

      • I can easily see people selecting this option thinking “I don’t want to expose myself to radiation”, and then complain that their mobile phone has lousy coverage and can’t ever get a strong signal.

      • Sure, this is one option, but “as always”, there are dozens or hundreds of features that some would like to be configurable. How many is too much? That’s a really hard question, since some people can get overwhelmed with a surprisingly small number of choices, and may think that iOS configuration is already too complex.

      • Every option you provide means that’s another configuration that must be tested. The number of configurations expands geometrically as you add more. iOS is probably already beyond the point where automated testing (forget manual) could try every combination of system settings. So there’s a strong incentive to not introduce choices without a reason better than “some people will want it”.

    • When someone travels to France, it will have to switch itself into low-power mode. Hopefully it will auto-switch back when leaving the country. Unless it was in that state before. Not an impossible problem to solve, but people can and do disagree about how features like this should behave and nothing you do will make everybody happy.

      • It’s often easier to not provide an option, which will minimize complaints, because people not actively following the issue in the news won’t even realize there’s something to complain about.
  10. Indeed, the increased levels on the 12 were caused by Apple’s software updates over the years.

    Apple has now developed an update that brings levels back down to their original values. The French authorities have tested the update, appear convinced, and are willing to lift their iPhone 12 ban once Apple has released the update to the public.

  11. This is an interesting article. It appears the whole debate centers around the body proximity sensor not being credited. Apple says transmission power is reduced if the iPhone senses body proximity (e.g. next to head or in pocket), but the ANFR testing does not take that into account. Apple is going to lower power levels for 12 in iOS 17.1 regardless to avoid further problems, but appears firm in that actual levels are within legal limits when properly tested.

    What the article doesn’t explain is what iOS updates had to do with it. The proximity sensing has been there all along. Original testing didn’t reveal any issues. What did Apple change in one (or several) OS updates that changed power levels leading to ANFR now measuring elevated levels?

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