Featured Article : iPhone Radiation : What’s It All About?

Following the recent news that sales of Apple’s iPhone 12 in France have been banned over radiation fears, we look at where these fears came from and how much danger, if any, Apple iPhone 12 users may be in.

France, Fears, Ban, & Update 

France’s National Frequency Agency (ANFR), the watchdog that manages all radio frequencies in France (for all wireless communications) recently ordered an immediate withdrawal of the iPhone 12 from the French market over fears that the phone could be emitting dangerous radiation.

The fears came from the results of an ANFR test of the iPhone 12, simulating the phone being held in the hand or put in a pocket. Following the test, the ANFR reported that it emits more electromagnetic waves (susceptible to being absorbed by the body) than permitted.

With ‘SAR’ standing for Specific Absoption Rates, the ANFR’s tests evaluate phones in contact with the body for “limb” SAR (a phone held in the hand or in a trouser pocket), and at a distance of 5 mm for “trunk” SAR (a phone carried in a jacket pocket or a bag). In the EU, phones must comply with the regulatory limit values of 4.0 W/kg for “limb” SAR and 2 W/kg for “trunk” SAR. In the case of the iPhone 12 test, the ANFR said that “measurements have revealed a “limb” SAR value exceeding this limit, specifically 5.74 W/kg. However, the “trunk” SAR values are compliant.” 

In addition to the ban on sales of the iPhone 12, the ANFR said: “Apple must immediately take all measures to prevent the availability of the concerned phones in the supply chain. Regarding the phones that have already been sold, Apple must promptly take corrective measures to bring the concerned phones into compliance. Failing that, it will be the company Apple’s responsibility to recall them.” 

Germany & Belgum Spooked 

Following the results and action in France, it was reported that regulators in Germany and Belgium were investigating the SAR levels of the iPhone 12 which could result in similar action in those countries. Other European countries may follow suit. Spain’s OCU consumers’ group, for example, has urged authorities there to halt the sales of the iPhone 12.

What Does Apple Say About It? 

Apple has disputed the ANFR’s findings, dismissing them as “a specific testing protocol used by French regulators and not a safety concern.” 

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

Apple has also said that it will issue a software update to fix any radiation issues.

Who’s Right? Is It Dangerous? 

Electromagnetic fields are present everywhere, i.e. electromagnetic field radiation occurs naturally and also, we are subject to man-made electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by electricity that comes out of every power socket. The higher frequency radio waves are used to transmit information, e.g. from TV antennas, radio stations or mobile phone base stations. Arguably, the common lightbulb emits high frequency electromagnetic radiation (i.e. visible light), yet few people are concerned about that. However, fields of different frequencies interact with the body in different ways.

Radiation, which appears to be the most frightening word due to its links to cancer, refers to the emission of energy as electromagnetic (EM) waves or fast-moving subatomic particles. Both forms of radiation are naturally occurring, and can come from various sources including the sun, cosmic rays, radon gas, radioactive rocks and even common foods such as Brazil nuts. However, “non-ionising” radiation comes from much lower frequency (EM) sources, such as microwaves, cordless-phones, Bluetooth etc. Radiation can also come from, planned (medical, occupational) or accidental situations.

Where mobile phones are concerned, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which sets global SAR guidance and levels classed the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phone use as “possibly carcinogenic” in 2011. However, as the World Health organisation stated about the radiofrequency waves transmitted by mobile phones in 2014: “Radiofrequency waves are electromagnetic fields, and unlike ionizing radiation such as X-rays or gamma rays, can neither break chemical bonds nor cause ionisation in the human body.”

It also stated that: “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.” 

Comments About The iPhone 12’s Safety 

In relation to the iPhone 12’s ban, Professor Rodney Croft, the chair of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has been widely quoted across the media, saying: “From a health and safety point of view, it is not as if this is putting anyone at risk”. 

Limits Have Been Set Low 

It is also the case that regulatory limits on SAR have been set well below levels where scientists have found evidence of harm anyway. For example, based on the risk of burns or heatstroke from a phone’s radiation, the SAR levels are already set ten times below the level where scientists have found evidence of harm.

This suggests that there may be no need for alarm over the French testing of the iPhone 12 which only showed a slightly excessive reading in the “limb” SAR value but was compliant in other tests.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With an abundance of devices, transmitters, and other sources of electromagnetic waves all around us in the street, home, workplace, and countryside, and with more of us becoming more reliant on our radiofrequency wave-transmitting phones, it’s good that are tests taking place. It’s also good from a consumer protection point of view that enough tolerance has been built into the SAR tests, and that there are regulators in place to force fast action, e.g. from sales bans to recalls. However, from Apple’s point of view, the results of a test in one country, whether fully accurate or not, has damaged sales through a ban (which is spreading internationally) and led to a more damaging wave of fear and bad publicity.

If Apple can’t satisfy the regulators (it has two weeks to respond in France) and quell fears over a phone that’s now three years old, a snowballing effect could bring an even wider ban across the EU and an even more expensive recall (as already threatened) could follow.

Apple has just launched its iPhone 15 and will be hoping that the fears don’t rub off and affect its sales or, even worse, that it doesn’t also come under scrutiny and come out with similar results. That said, as France’s junior minister for the digital economy, Jean-Noel Barrot (who is sceptical of the software update fix) says, the rule is the same for everyone introducing devices in France, including the digital giants.

Outside of the software update, Apple may now need to do some more serious talking and convincing to “stop the rot” in the EU damaging its profits and reputation further. All this is, of course, good news for Apple’s competitors in the EU phone market who may pick up some of Apple’s lost sales.

The SAR findings top off a bad week for Apple in Europe where it has also been forced to swap its lightning charger for a USB-C charging port for its iPhone 15 in order to comply with EU rules for standardisation in 2024.

Tech Insight : Why Is There Only One Monopolies Commission?

In this insight, we take closer look at the subject of tech companies getting into trouble over antitrust issues, why it happens, what can be done, and what part organisations like the UK ‘Monopoly Commission’ plays.

The Monopoly Commission

The Monopoly Commission dates back to a previous incarnation of a regulator and is often used and accepted as a broad term to describe the regulatory body that is tasked with overseeing and controlling monopolistic and anti-competitive behaviour in markets. Each country has a different one, each with different titles and different powers. Technically, therefore, there’s only one in the UK, but many different ones of varying names around the world.

Role 

The role of such commissions is to enforce ‘antitrust’ laws to help ensure competition and regulate mergers and acquisitions to prevent any one company from having too much market power.

In The UK & US 

In the UK, for example, what was the Monopolies and Mergers Commission regulatory authority was replaced by the Competition Commission, which in turn was superseded by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in 2014. These organisations have had the mandate to ensure that competition is fair, and consumers are protected.

In the United States, the role of regulating monopolistic behaviour is mostly undertaken by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

In Europe 

In Europe, as part of the European Commission, The Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) essentially does a similar job to the UK’s FTC.

What Powers Does The UK’s CMA Have? 

The UK’s CMA has the power to impose a range of penalties and take various actions against companies for antitrust violations. These include:

– Fines. The CMA can impose fines up to 10% of a company’s global turnover for breaches of competition law.

– Disqualification. Directors can be disqualified from holding company directorships for up to 15 years if they are found to have infringed competition law.

– Enforcement Orders. The CMA can issue orders to cease and desist from anti-competitive behaviour, as well as require companies to take specific actions to restore competition.

– Criminal Sanctions. In some cases, individuals can face criminal charges for cartel activity, including imprisonment.

– Market Investigations. The CMA has the authority to carry out market investigations and recommend or enforce changes to market structure or business practices.

– Mergers and Acquisitions. The CMA has the power to block or require modifications to mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures that are likely to reduce competition.

Who And What Gets Hurt By Monopolies? 

If a company has too much market power and dominance, there are many entities and factors can be negatively impacted. For example:

– Consumers can suffer through reduced choice, higher prices, and potentially lower quality products or services.

– Competitors can be hurt, e.g. smaller firms may be driven out of business or prevented from entering the market, thereby stifling competition.

– Suppliers can find themselves squeezed on prices or terms, potentially causing smaller suppliers to go out of business.

– Innovation suffers because with less competition, the dominant firm has fewer incentives to innovate and improve.

– Market distortions can lead to resource allocation that is not optimal, wasting societal resources, i.e., economic efficiency can suffer.

– Reduced competition may result in fewer jobs and reduced salaries (the job market can be affected).

– The dominance of one company can lead to market complacency (a lack of urgency to prepare for risks), reduced consumer choice, and a lack of disruptive technologies.

– Fair trade can suffer because excessive market power can create imbalances in trade negotiations and economic partnerships, both domestically and internationally – leading to unfair/excessive pricing.

Trouble For Tech Companies 

With the tech market being essentially dominated by a relatively small number of very large and powerful tech companies, it’s not surprising that many of them have got on the wrong side of the antitrust regulators. Some high-profile examples involving some familiar tech names include:

Amazon

Back in November 2021, the European Commission fined Amazon approximately €2.42 billion for using non-public data from independent sellers on its platform to benefit its own retail business, which the Commission considered to be an abuse of a dominant market position.

Also, in the same year, Italy’s competition authority fined Amazon over €1 billion for abuse of market dominance related to its logistics platform, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). The authority argued that the terms and conditions for third-party sellers using FBA restricted competition.

Currently, but in a case dating back four years the EC is investigating Apple over so-called “anti-steering” practices, i.e. where developers are prevented from informing users about alternative payment options (which would constitute unfair trading practices).

Microsoft 

Famously, way back in 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, alleging that the company had abused its market dominance to stifle competition, particularly by bundling its Internet Explorer web browser with its Windows operating system. The case led to a prolonged legal battle, and eventually, Microsoft was found to have violated antitrust laws. However, a proposed breakup of the company was rejected, and Microsoft instead settled the case by agreeing to make it easier for competitors’ software to operate with Windows.

This month, following a 2020 complaint made by Slack, an EC investigation over a possible breach of competition rules, has led to Microsoft announcing that it will begin unbundling Teams from Office 365 and Microsoft 365 in the European Economic Area and Switzerland. Microsoft was facing a potentially massive fine, e.g. 10 per cent of its turnover and opted to take the ‘proactive’ unbundling decision.

Apple

Apple is also no stranger to getting into hot water over antitrust issues. For example, back in March 2020, Apple was fined €1.1 billion by France’s competition authority for anti-competitive practices with its distribution and retail network. The authority alleged that Apple and two of its wholesale distribution partners had agreed not to compete against each other and also prevented premium resellers from lowering prices, which resulted in an unfair advantage for Apple’s own stores.

Dating from back in 2021, and still ongoing (the EC released a rare revision and clarification of the issues earlier this year), Apple has been under investigation by the European Commission regarding its App Store practices, specifically surrounding the 30 per cent commission it takes from in-app purchases. Spotify and other companies have claimed this is anti-competitive, as Apple’s own services don’t have to pay the commission. Apple could still face a hefty fine, e.g. up to 10 per cent of its global annual revenue if things don’t go its way.

Google  

Currently, in what is the biggest antitrust trial in 20 years, following a lawsuit (three years ago) by the US Justice Department and a group of states, Google is accused of having a monopoly in online search and related advertising markets and being the default search engine on most U.S. phones. The accusations relate to the fact that Google has around a 90 per cent share in search, aided by restrictive agreements with browser and phone partners (e.g. Apple, Mozilla, Samsung, and Verizon) that give it dominance. The trial will also focus on Google’s agreements with Android-based mobile-device manufacturers which forbid the pre-installing or promoting of rival search engines if they opt to take some of Google’s search revenue.

Back in 2019, the European Commission imposed a €1.49 billion fine on Google for abusing its market dominance in the online advertising sector. The Commission found that Google had imposed restrictive clauses in contracts with websites using its AdSense service, effectively stifling competition.

In 2018, Google was fined £3.8 billion for pre-installing its search engine and browser on Android devices, which was seen as an abuse of its dominant position

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

In our digital society where tech companies have grown to occupy serious positions of power, the tech sector has become a focal point for recent antitrust scrutiny. This is perhaps not surprising due to issues like market dominance by a few big tech companies (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple, Meta), and the network effects of technology platforms, e.g. the value of the services increasing as more people use them creating a tendency toward market concentration.

The control the big tech companies have over data (which market-newcomers find hard to match) and the whole product eco-systems created by big companies effectively making it hard for consumers to switch have increased the level of scrutiny. Arguably, companies of this size and dominance with their significant profits need outside regulation to ensure fair play for all.

That said, the tech sector is not the only one where antitrust issues regularly crop up. For example, dominant companies within the financial, energy, telecoms, and pharmaceutical industries also see their fair share of complaints and penalties. This article highlights why outside regulation is needed, what challenges companies and regulators face, and how each country has its own ‘monopoly commission’ authority with different powers and rules that are constantly changing as new issues arise.

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