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[flagged] We tested popular cellphones for RF radiation. Now the FCC is investigating (chicagotribune.com)
39 points by bookofjoe 54 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

> Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.

Oh well... It likely wasn't worth reading anyway!

Ah, the ever present fear of non-ionizing radiation.

What appears to have happened is the Chicago Tribune decided to not follow the test definition in order to make the testing more accurate, but not adjust the limit accordingly. They don’t have the authority to change the test procedure or the limit so it doesn’t matter. By inverse square law the limit can be extrapolated to more realistic distances. However the FCC cellphone exposure limit is laughably low compared to when non-ionizing radiation has been shown to cause health effects [1]. Is it reasonable to make legislation around an extrapolation of a fear that is not based on any scientific model?

It’s always nice to see reporters go the extra mile to stoke public fears of the boogeyman.

1. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/emf/#rffields

I don't see the deviation from FCC test definition it regulations.

Regulation: * distance for test no greater than 25mm * MUST NEVER exceed radiation limit.

They tested below 25mm and found it broke the limit. They then put it into "lab testing mode" after advice from the manufacturer, but that's exactly the same problem as car emissions cheating. It's still over the limit if a sensor isn't tripped. But regulation doesn't say it can go over the limit in any situation.

I'm not basing Apple here (they were not the only ones breaking the rules)... Just pointing out that the phone manufacturers adjusted the testing definition, not the lab. Manufacturers decided they only need to follow the legal limits if the phone is close to your ear. This doesn't appear in the test definition.

I'm also not saying the regulation is bad, I'm not qualified to say what radiation limit is harmful. But if that's the issue, manufacturers should push too raise the limit... Not cheat on tests because they think the limit is to restrictive. The FCC is HUGELY pro-business right now.

> "Ah, the ever present fear of non-ionizing radiation."

On the cdc.gov resource you provided, I clicked on the link about "NIEHS research on possible health risks from cell phones". There I read this:

The NTP studies found that high exposure to RFR used by cell phones resulted in:

- Clear evidence of tumors in the hearts of male rats. The tumors were malignant schwannomas.

- Some evidence of tumors in the brains of male rats. The tumors were malignant gliomas.

- Some evidence of tumors in the adrenal glands of male rats. The tumors were benign, malignant, or complex combined pheochromocytoma.

I get that this study involved higher levels than what my cell phone should be exposing me to, "mice are not humans", etc., etc. But then here come some journalists saying my phone emits much higher radiation than I thought... are they really just evoking a bogeyman and nothing more? I'm not sure.

It takes a lot to win over my skepticism on a variety of topics -- particuarly when large corporations stand to gain or lose billions of dollars hinging on whether their product is GRAS or not -- and I suspect many others are the same.

I'd be very grateful for links to additional research on the topic of cell phones and non-ionizing radiation, if anyone has good ones to share.

How about https://tbiomed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4682... ?

Laymans TL;DR:

Essential mechanisms of biological cells work via EMF, in addition to what is known so far.

My question: Could it be "jammed" by external EMF?

Non-ionising radiation can cause harm. Ask welders (burnt eyes). Get a cheap auto-darkening welding helmet, put it on and point a TV remote at it. The levels of IR in the remote are small, but the sensors still activate in the helmet.

Yes of course. Microwave ovens run at 2.4 GHz, and cell phones typically operate in the 700 to 1400 MHz range, so it's fair to compare microwave ovens to cell phones. The largest difference between the two is power. Power density is key. Why cellphone radiation gets a lot of attention is because the distance is so low compared to other radiation sources. However your body tells you if it's over the limit. Cell phones aren't burning users. For every study that finds a link between exposure to low levels of non-ionizing radiation and cancer in humans there is at least one that finds such a link does not exist.

Comparing the power density in the microwave spectrum of phones to the sun is reasonable. Should there be recommendations that people stay indoors because of the adverse health risks associated from non-ionizing microwave radiation from the sun?

Or taking a sunbath without using sunscreen...

Exactly what I was thinking when I read the headline. Do you know of any other real-world items the average person interacts with that releases more RF energy? Like a toaster or power inverter in a car?

Spark plugs release wide band RF. Many transformers do too. Quick test, walk around with an AM radio set between stations so you only hear static and put it next to various things. That is how amateur radio operators find interferening emissions.

The Sun. But that's not a great example because it also emits other, actually harmful, radiation.

Yeah, non-ionizing radiation from the Sun is harmful, e.g. when you looking at the sun via naked eyes, or forgetting to use sunscreen. But those are not normally considered as RF.

And the phone-makers defense was that the phones were not tested the same way they test in their lab in order to produce a result that meets the standard.

This smacks of the same real-world failure that brought down Volkswagen. If you don't hold the phone in just the right way to activate the proximity sensor it exceeds the safe limit.

From the articles about article (since the original is not available in EU):

- FCC requires the test to be done at a distance no larger than 25mm - Apple tests their devices at 5mm - Chicago Tribune did the tests at 5 and 2mm, the 5mm test is marginally different from what manufacturers report.

What I find weird is that the test is not completely standardized and that it is allowed for manufacturers to self report? When we needed to have some Ingress Protection markings we had to go through a certified body.

Not allowing manufacturers to self-report means staffing up dramatically, and there is no will from anyone to balloon the number of government employees for things like this.

In a way this is worse .... We've gone decades with no one even trying to check these results. And the phones are approved with "faith" the business wouldn't lie for profit.

The FCC should be testing the major phones and a random sampling to ensure companies don't just lie on the paperwork.

The debate about radiation from cell/mobile phones simply refuses to go away. We had decades of denial that smoking wasn't slowly killing us, burning hydrocarbons wasn't a problem, using glyphosate was fine, and more recently that vaping is safe. The track records of profit maximising corporations really doesn't lend itself to giving them the benefit of doubt here either.

What this has highlighted is that the testing that kept pushing the debate out further is sounding like a sham. It doesn't address that people carry their phone in their pockets, and many don't hold it the prescribed way when they use them. The manufacturers' tests would also be conducted in places with excellent coverage, not the worst case situation where you're only getting one bar.

OT: Unavailable in Europe. Why? Cause they can’t life without data hoarding. The internet is more and more getting a strange place.

This post really drives that point home: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20776191

yeah, but it's on the NYT... who also use a lot of tracking.

Yup. The article mentions that and also that news sites are among the worst offenders.

This is not OT. The information of the post is voluntarily made unavailable to hundreds of millions of people because of the offensive reasons.

I don't know if I find the cumbersome EU regulations on foreign site operators offensive; they're just annoying and if there isn't enough revenue coming in from European visitors to justify the investment in even understanding the EU regulations, voluntarily restricting the content seems reasonable. (I'm facing something similar for an admittedly hobby/side project. I'm not interested in tracking users, probably won't even be selling 3rd party ads, but I just can't be bothered to figure out what I'd need to do to make it EU-compliant, so I'm much more likely to use my limited time to figure out how to block EU visitors.)

Easy: Don't collect/store personal data without opt-in consent (which I think is totally reasonable). Like... if it's your hobby website and you don't store personal data without telling your users about what you're storing and what you're doing with that data... you're fine.

Also if they ask you "what data do you have on me?" and "can you delete the data you have on me?", you respond and respect their request like a reasonable human being - it's their data after all.

It's... really just not a big deal for small-time projects. The whole total compliance thing is a CYA thing but in reality even if you did anything wrong, you'd be contacted about it first in order to resolve it. You could then deal with whatever issue came up (didn't tell users about X? start telling them.) and move on with your life. It's only if you ignored warnings and kept being shady that it'd escalate.

If their data happened to end up in any of my backups... If their IP address happened to be in an archived log file...

At some point, the cognitive, operational, and risk burden of serving the EU can easily exceed the value of doing so.

Just to be clear, I did not mean that the EU regulations are offensive, but that refusal to even serve your site without tracking is.

A website, by default, is available everywhere. That they go to great lengths to exclude certain people based on ip geolocation is extremely offensive.

I use outline for this purpose: https://outline.com/9qR95f

>Companies testing a new phone for compliance with the safety limit also are permitted to position the phone up to 25 millimeters away from the body — nearly an inch — depending on how the device is used. That’s because the testing standards were adopted in the 1990s, when people frequently carried cellphones on belt clips.

Would be nice to see a new standard for testing this, intresting subject.

  Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.
Could someone summarize for us Europeans?

Article via outline - https://outline.com/9qR95f

This outline thing does not work either (at least in firefox with or without an ad blocker).

Try reloading the page.

It worked for me after a refresh (FF + uBlock Origin).

iPhones radiate twice as much as claimed by Apple, is doomed.

> To reduce exposure, Apple suggests using “a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, the supplied headphones, or other similar accessories.”

Wouldn't a hands-free option increase the exposure, since it means the phone doesn't even have to be taken out of the pocket?

> Almost all smartphones, he said, have power sensors — also known as proximity sensors — designed to detect when the device is touching or extremely close to a person. When that occurs, the phone is supposed to reduce power, decreasing radiofrequency radiation.

That's the first I heard of that. I thought the proximity sensor was only to power off and lock the screen when the phone is held to the ear, to prevent the ear touching the screen from pressing on-screen buttons - which is why, on all phones I've seen, the proximity sensor is right next to the speaker.

I received a text message from my provider recently with a link to tips for reducing exposure.

My instant thought was legal has seen a problem. You don't go suggesting ways to minimise exposure if it's a non issue and as safe as we've always been told.

I guess step one to reduce legal liability is put the onus of safety onto the user so they share some of the responsibility, or so you can announce that there is a problem but we've been warning you for years.

When told to don't panic, it usually means you have a fair reason to.

> To reduce exposure, Apple suggests using “a hands-free option, such as ... headphones

I was always convinced headphones act as an antenna in most phones. Cany anyone confirm this?

The headphone cable is used as a receive-only antenna for longer-wavelength signals like digital TV and FM radio. Using it is required for these features, and won't increase the exposure since it's receive-only.

Only for the FM-Radio part, if they have it.

Otherwise something like this is used:


So does this pose any actual problem for me as a user?

If you hold your phone 2mm away from your eyeball while using it, it could absorb 8W of heat per kilogram of eyeball mass. Since an eyeball weighs about 8g, it might absorb up to 64mW of power. By comparison, a microwave oven injects about 1000W, or 15,000 times more power into whatever is inside it.

(I am using the worst-case figures from the article, and they mentioned your eye as a specific area that you should be concerned about, as it can't dissipate heat as easily as other parts of your body.)

Importantly, the only model that shows health effects from non-ionizing radiation is from heating. When we start hearing reports of users being burned by their battery operated devices, then we should sit up in our seats. Until then, it’s fear-mongering for clicks.

Actually it's not, there are biological effects seen in rats which while not fully understood, have been replicated across more than one trial.


Sure rats aren't humans but that doesn't mean we're not going to be seeing the same damage occurring at a cellular level. We may just have mechanisms that prevent that damage becoming cancerous.

Try https://tbiomed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-4682...

My conclusion from that is if cells communicate via EMF internally and externally, then this can be jammed by the right artificial EMF from the outside. Question is if contemporary cell phones, Wifi, etc. have "the right stuff".


Very interesting line of study.

There was a case of a cancer cluster among female staff at the Australian Broadcasting Commission's Toowong Building that went largely unexplained. While everyone speculated it had something to do with the radio tower there, nothing conclusive was determined.


> Until then, it’s fear-mongering for clicks.

And money, don't forget that lawyers always capitalize on anything for which they can drum up popular support. https://www.macrumors.com/2019/08/22/apple-radiofrequency-ra...

Exactly what I thought

For the sake of future generations, I really hope you both are 100% right.

Why the title does not mention Apple and iPhone 7 if this was the tested model??

If you read through to the next few paragraphs you can see they tested several android devices also.

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