Apple moves to defuse French iPhone 12 dispute as EU scrutiny steps up
Apple pledged on Friday to update software on iPhone 12s in France to settle a dispute over radiation levels, but concerns in other European countries signalled 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 Organisation, 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's state secretary for digitalisation said he had asked Apple to upgrade the iPhone 12 software across EU countries, even though he said that based on the Belgian regulator's own preliminary review the handset presents no danger to users.
Germany said it was in touch with French authorities to find a European Union-wide solution, while Italy was set to ask Apple to upgrade the software on iPhone 12s there, according to a government source in Rome.
However, any request to Apple or separate decisions by Italian authorities will only come after the end of the French investigation, a second Italian government source said.
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 a security issue. They can be focused on a particular model or a region, and sometimes Apple issues such updates several times in a month.
France's Agence Nationale des Frequences (ANFR) said on Tuesday 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 0 mm compared with a distance of 5mm for body tests.
The Belgian minister for digitalisation, Mathieu Michel, said in a statement on Friday that while a review of the phone by the country's IBPT regulator was still underway, the first results were "reassuring" and there was no need for a recall of the phone in Belgium.
Even so, he said he had contacted Apple and asked it to "review its software updates in an identical manner within the whole of Europe."
Denmark too moved to reassure owners of the phone, saying its Safety Authority would not take action following France's findings and that it was not concerned about radiation levels from using the iPhone 12.
"Based on the available information, the Danish Health Authority's assessment is that you can continue to use your iPhone 12 without concern," it said in an emailed statement.
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 totalled 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 US company does not break out its sales by country or model.