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Apple faces turmoil in Europe over iPhone radiation, scrambles to release patch

Problems began when France said the iPhone 12 was emitting unsafe levels of electromagnetic radiation.

September 16, 2023 10:49pm

Updated: September 16, 2023 10:49pm

Tech giant Apple has agreed to issue an emergency software patch for the three-year-old iPhone 12, after authorities in France said the device was emitting unsafe levels of electromagnetic radiation.

The case is the latest in a series of European regulatory issues for the California-based company, which has been the subject of multiple investigations into the abuse of its dominant position in the marketplace and privacy issues.

Apple has also been criticized for being too closely tied to China, which has often been at odds with the west on trade.

The problems with the iPhone 12 come just as the company is touting the highly-anticipated release of its iPhone 15 line of smartphones.

France’s National Frequency Agency this week ordered the iPhone 12, which was initially released in 2020, out of the French market, and it threatened a recall of the phones after controls of the specific absorption rate -- a measure of the amount of radiofrequency energy could be absorbed by the human body -- was beyond set limits.  

After the French regulator announced its findings, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands all announced their own probes into the problem, while Italy and Spain called on Apple to update its software for the iPhone 12 to reduce electromagnetic radiation emissions.

A spokesman for the European Commission said developments could lead to European Union restrictions on sales of the iPhone 12 unless the problem was resolved.

Apple, which has denied the phone’s emissions were outside of legal norms, nonetheless said Friday that it would release an update to the operating system of the phone that would eliminate the problem. European authorities said they would re-test the devices after the software patch is installed.

According to the French watchdog, the legal limit for electromagnetic radiation for a phone is 4.0 watts per kilogram, but the average discovered for the iPhone 12 was 5.74.

Jean-Noël Barrot, France’s Minister for Digital Transition and Telecommunications, said via social media that while the emissions were “more than ten times lower” than levels that would represent long-term health risks, that it was still important the company take action. “The rule is the rule,” Barrot wrote. “Apple must comply.”

According to Carlo Alberto Carnevale-Maffè, a professor of business strategy at Milan’s Bocconi University School of Management, there could be factors in the case that go beyond electromagnetic radiation emissions.  

The iPhone 12 is the first Apple product designed to access 5G communications networks, which may be part of the emissions problems. Subsequent editions of the phone have updated hardware that could help avoid the issue.

“This situation may dent Apple’s reputation a little but there is little risk that it will lead to any legal consequences for the company,” Carnevale-Maffè told Just the News. “But it is clear that European regulators are keen to wag their fingers at big multinational tech companies like Apple.”

In July, Apple and six other major tech companies were forced to adhere to a new European digital markets regime that treats them as “digital gatekeepers” responsible for the content they host or facilitate access to. Around the same time, French competition officials objected to Apple’s use of data tracking within apps.

And in February, European antitrust regulators announced a probe into the way Apple operated its App Store regarding payments to software developers.

In 2021 and again in May, Italian antitrust authorities announced investigations into Apple’s policies toward app developers, and in 2020 the company’s offices in Italy were raided as part of an investigation into its pricing for headphones made by Beats, an Apple subsidiary.

“The emissions levels are legitimate, but could it be the case that European authorities may specifically go out to look for problems when it comes to the behavior of a company it has had issues with?” Carnevale-Maffè asked. “Yes, it’s possible. But it’s also impossible to prove. We’ll probably never know for sure.”

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