SCIENCE & TECH: France’s iPhone 12 ban over radiation risks forces Apple to update software
Apple pledged on Friday to update software on iPhone 12s in France to settle a row over radiation levels, but concerns in other European countries signaled it may have to take similar action elsewhere.
France this week suspended sales of iPhone 12 handsets after tests which it said found breaches of radiation exposure limits.
Apple contested the findings, saying the iPhone 12 was certified by multiple international bodies as compliant with global standards, but said on Friday it would issue a software update to accommodate the testing methods used in France.
Researchers have conducted a vast number of studies over the last two decades to assess the health risks of mobile phones. According to the World Health Organization, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by them.
But the radiation warning in France, based on results of tests that differ from those carried out in other countries, has prompted concerns across Europe.
Belgium said it would conduct its own review, while Germany said it was in touch with French authorities to find a European Union-wide solution. It was not immediately clear if that might include a software upgrade across the bloc.
Italy, meanwhile, is set to ask Apple to upgrade the software on iPhone 12s there, according to a government source.
The Dutch Authority for Digital Infrastructure said it was also conducting its own investigation, due in two weeks, and was in contact with Apple as well as German and French authorities. The agency said it had received calls from concerned consumers.
The French government welcomed Apple’s software update, saying it would be swiftly tested and should allow for sales of the relatively old iPhone 12 model, launched in 2020, to resume.
“We will issue a software update for users in France to accommodate the protocol used by French regulators. We look forward to iPhone 12 continuing to be available in France,” Apple said in a statement.
“This is related to a specific testing protocol used by French regulators and not a safety concern,” it said.
Apple routinely provides software updates for its phones and computers, mostly to fix security issues. They can be focused on a particular model or a region, and sometimes Apple issues such updates several times a month.
France’s Agence Nationale des Frequences (ANFR) said Tuesday that the iPhone 12’s Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) — a measure of the rate of radiofrequency energy absorbed by the body from a piece of equipment – was higher than legally allowed, which prompted the sale suspension.
A change in French regulations in 2020 allowed for testing SAR for limbs — holding a phone in hand — as well as for the head and body, used elsewhere. In the French limb SAR tests, which the iPhone 12 failed, it is measured at a distance of 0mm compared with a distance of 5mm for body tests.
Industry experts said there were no safety risks as regulatory limits, based on the risk of burns or heatstroke from the phone’s radiation, were set well below levels where scientists have found evidence of harm.
“Ultimately I suspect the whole incident will be quickly forgotten,” said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, highlighting that the iPhone 12 is an old model.
Apple launched the iPhone 15 on Tuesday and the iPhone 12 is not available to buy from Apple directly. It can, however, be bought from third parties that have inventory or trade old phones.
A bigger issue would have been a potential recall, which France had threatened if Apple had refused to do a software update.
Apple’s revenues totaled about $95 billion in Europe last year, making the region its second biggest behind the Americas. Some estimates say it sold more than 50 million iPhones last year in Europe.
The company does not break out its sales by country or model.