Google announced they are testing a new 5G smartphone, a move that aims to expand the company further into the branded hardware market, writes Theodora Scarato, executive director of Environmental Health Trust.
On 10 September, Apple launched three new iPhones (iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max). Not to be shut out of the game, also last month, Samsung released their much-anticipated Samsung Galaxy Fold, the first foldable smartphone. As the leading tech companies vie for first place in the 5G smartphone market, will they also issue clear warnings to the consumer public that their phones are not intended to be used in close body contact?
On 22 August, the law firm of Fegan Scott filed a class action lawsuit against Apple and Samsung alleging that these two tech companies are misleading customers because their cellphones are marketed on the premise that the devices can always be used in close contact to the body (i.e. in the pocket). But phones in these very positions could result in the body absorbing high levels of cell phone radiation. So high, in fact, that the phones could violate the radiation safety limits set by the Federal Communications Commission.
The litigation was prompted by disturbing findings released in an August 21, 2019 Chicago Tribune investigation into cell phone radiation. The Tribune independently tested several popular cell phones and found that the phones emitted far more radiation than reported by the manufacturers. Most importantly, radiation levels skyrocketed from two to five times the legal limit when phones were tested in positions close to the body, such as mimicking a phone in a pants pocket.
Many people incorrectly assume that cell phone radiation levels are safe, no matter how or where the phone is being used. But fine print warnings buried deep in the manufacturers’ manuals state that the phone is radiation tested a specific distance away from the body. For the iPhone 7 that distance is 5mm, but for the iPhone 3 it was 15mm.
In 2017, the government of France was pressured by Dr. Marc Arazi into finally releasing data from the hundreds of cell phones they tested since 2012. The majority exceeded the legal limits when tested at body contact. In response, the European Union strengthened compliance tests so the distance can’t exceed 5mm and several smartphone models have now been withdrawn from the market or software updated. As many models with excessive radiation levels still remain on the market, Arazi of the Phonegate association has now filed legal action against Nokia and Xiaomi stating, “The manufacturers have deceived the users of more than 6 billion mobile phones.”
The radiation levels found in the smartphones tested by France could violate US limits by 11 times according to published analysis. Fegan Scott characterized the situation as the “Chernobyl of the cell phone industry, cover-up and all.” This October, the French Health Authority released a report recommending that phones be radiation tested at body contact- not at 5mm. In response to this report, the French ministries of Health, Ecology and Economy issued a press release statement announcing their recommendation that phones be tested at body contact. They also called for the public to reduce cell phone radiation exposure. US National Institutes of Health scientist published their findings of DNA damage associated with cell phone radiation in their $30 million animal study. This really should be the crack in the dam. Yet in the US, the FDA has been informed but taken no action.
What’s far more curious is that over the years, phone manufacturers have wordsmithed these fine print warnings such that consumers are confused.
Why not directly state: “If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket, or tucked into a bra, when the phone is on and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.”
In Berkeley, California, retailers are required to state this exact warning to cell phone consumers after the city passed their Cell Phone Right To Know Ordinance in 2015. It should be noted that after the Ordinance passed, the telecom industry group CTIA litigated all the way to the Supreme Court claiming the ordinance violated their free speech rights.
For two years after the Apple iPhone 6 debut in 2015, Apple shared the following statement regarding the model, “Carry iPhone at least 5mm away from your body to ensure exposure levels remain at or below the as-tested levels.” While this sentence was still on their website on 2 March, 2017, it was removed by 9 November, 2017. Similarly, the iPhone 7 was released in 2016, along with the same online instructions to carry it “5mm away from your body” which disappeared from the Apple website by 9 November 9, 2017.
Apple’s website still includes information that cell phones are tested with a separation distance. However, the text is absent of clear instructions to consumers. Years ago, iPhone 3 filings to the FCC stated “iPhone’s SAR measurement may exceed the FCC exposure guidelines for body-worn operation if positioned less than 15 mm (5/8 inch) from the body (e.g. when carrying iPhone in your pocket).” They clearly stated, “When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) away from the body.” Were iPhone 3 consumers aware of these instructions then? Why not inform users now?
Fegan Scott claims that “research strongly suggests that cell phone manufacturers knew – or should have known – that the radiation levels were well above what they were claiming”.
Babies are handed cell phones to cuddle in shopping carts. A child's first cell phone is seen as a rite of passage and yet many don’t even know how to turn the phone off. They carry phones in their pockets- as do most men. Women carry phones directly against their body- tucked in their bras and spandex pants.
As with Dieselgate, the problem lies in the test itself. A 2012 Government Accountability Report found human exposure limits and test protocols decades outdated. A Harvard expose points to “undue industry influence” in US regulatory agencies and published analysis document conflicts of interest in the international “authorities” many countries rely on. Phones are simply not radiation tested the way we use them- at body contact. It is time to hit the reset button. Before deploying 5G infrastructure and allowing 5G phones on the market, the US should first hold Congressional hearings on the oversight and safety of wireless devices.
Theodora Scarato is executive director of Environmental Health Trust.
Commission approves €146.5 million Austrian support in favour of companies joining research and innovation project in microelectronics
The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, €146.5 million in Austrian support in favour of three companies joining the existing Important Project of Common European Interest (‘IPCEI') in microelectronics approved by the Commission in 2018. The public funding is expected to unlock an additional €530m of private investments, i.e. more than three and a half times the public support.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “To deliver on the digital and green transition, we will need highly innovative and sustainable microchips and sensors for many products in our economy, ranging from mobile phones to aircraft. The Important Project of Common European Interest in microelectronics that we approved in 2018 has been supporting the development of important cutting-edge technologies in this field. The IPCEI's integration is very important for its success – we have approved additional support by Austria to three projects because they meet the high bar of adding significant value to the existing IPCEI, with important collaborations with the existing participants.”
In December 2018, the Commission approved, under EU state aid rules, an IPCEI to support research and innovation in the field of microelectronics (the ‘2018 IPCEI Microelectronics'). The project was jointly set-up and notified by France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The approved public support amounted to €1.75 billion. The 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics, which aims at developing innovative microelectronics technologies and components for automotive, Internet of Things (IoT) and other key applications (such as space, avionics, and security) and their first industrial deployment, originally involved 27 companies and two research organisations.
In December 2020, Austria notified to the Commission its plans to join the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics, by providing €146.5m of public support to three companies (Infineon Austria, AT&S Austria and NXP Semiconductors Austria) that will carry out additional research and innovation falling within the scope and contributing to the objectives of the existing IPCEI. The companies will focus in particular on the areas of security, energy efficiency, and integration of packaging technologies for microelectronics.
The joining of an already established and ongoing IPCEI by an additional member state and projects is an exceptional circumstance. It requires a complex assessment by the Commission, to verify that the new individual projects are properly integrated in the existing roadmap and structure of the IPCEI, for example by means of establishing sufficient and valuable collaborations with the initial participants, and are genuinely adding significant value to the IPCEI in order to reach its objectives.
The Commission takes note of and welcomes the increasingly transparent, open and inclusive practice that member states have now established in designing IPCEIs to ensure that all interested member states join from the start, so that these important European projects generate even more benefits to the entire EU without unduly distorting competition.
The Commission's assessment
The Commission assessed Austria's plans under EU state aid rules, more specifically its Communication on Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEI). Where private initiatives supporting breakthrough innovation fail to materialise because of the significant risks such projects entail, the IPCEI state aid Communication enables member states to jointly fill the gap to overcome these market failures, while ensuring that the EU economy at large benefits and limiting potential distortions to competition.
The projects that Infineon Austria, AT&S Austria and NXP Semiconductors Austria will carry out aim at delivering additional technological innovations in energy efficient power semiconductors, on advanced security and interconnections, as well as on organic packaging technology aspects.
In this respect, the Commission found that the projects will add significant value to the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics and will contribute to and enhance the integration of existing IPCEI. In particular:
- They will significantly contribute to the achievement of common objective pursued by the existing IPCEI in supporting a strategic value chain, in particular through the development innovative microelectronics, technologies and components for automotive, IoT and other key applications (such as space, avionics, and security), by aiming at technology solutions that were not (sufficiently) addressed.
- They will add significant value to the existing IPCEI by bringing important contributions to its objectives, integration, collaborations, scope, and research and development content.
- They are highly ambitious, aiming at developing technologies and processes that go beyond current technology.
- The companies will establish significant and valuable additional collaborative research with the existing direct partners and support the development and objectives of the relevant technology fields.
- The projects involve significant technological and financial risks, and public support is therefore necessary to provide incentives to companies to carry out the investment.
- The aid to each of the three companies is limited to what is necessary, proportionate and does not unduly distort competition.
- Additional important positive spill-over effects will be generated throughout Europe.
On this basis, the Commission concluded that the Austrian plans to join the 2018 IPCEI Microelectronics are in line with EU State aid rules.
In June 2014 the Commission adopted a Communication on important projects of common European interest (IPCEI), setting out criteria under which Member States can support transnational projects of strategic significance for the EU under Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). This framework aims to encourage Member States to support projects that make a clear contribution to the EU strategic objectives.
The IPCEI Communication complements other State aid rules such as the General Block Exemption Regulation and the Research, Development and Innovation Framework, which allows supporting innovative projects with generous conditions.
Since 2014, the IPCEI Communication has been applied in the field of infrastructure as well as for integrated projects in the area of research and innovation, for microelectronics (in December 2018) and for the battery value chain (in December 2019 and in January 2021).
The IPCEI Communication is currently being reviewed to ensure it fully contributes to the Commission's green and digital objectives, following an evaluation or ‘Fitness Check' completed in October 2020. On 23 February 2021, the Commission launched a public consultation inviting all interested parties to comment on the draft revised IPCEI Communication. In this context, the Commission is proposing, among others, to further enhance the open character of IPCEIs (by, for example, providing that all Member States must be given a genuine opportunity to participate in an emerging project).
Stakeholders can respond to the consultation for eight weeks, until 20 April 2021.
The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.56606 in the State Aid Register on the competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.
New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the Competition Weekly e-News.
'Let's strike a deal on digital tax with the US now' says EPP
"We have to get the United States on board and strike an international tax deal with them as soon as possible. It is important, however, that the US Administration accepts that a common system is needed, where big US companies cannot opt out of whatever has been agreed internationally," said Andreas Schwab MEP, EPP Group negotiator on digital taxation, ahead of the adoption of the recommendations on digital taxation by the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee.
The United States has recently indicated that it is willing to drop the so-called ‘safe harbour’ rules, which - according to tax experts - would allow big US tech companies like Amazon, Alphabet’s Google and Facebook to opt-out. "The good news is, of course, that the US recently confirmed that we are again united across the Atlantic. We will fight for a solution at G20/OECD level, but if it doesn't seem possible to get a global solution, the EU should make a move on its own digital tax now. We need a minimum EU taxation without special national tax arrangements for digital companies that will profit from harmonised and fair digital taxation," Schwab added.
The EPP Group spokesman on Economic Affairs, Markus Ferber MEP, underlined that the European Parliament is ready to transpose an international solution as soon as possible into EU law. “The effective taxation of the digital economy is not only a question of fairness, but also a litmus test for multilateralism. A credible international solution is vastly superior to Europe going it alone. I call on the European Commission and member states to focus all their energy on finding an international solution to taxing the digital economy”, Ferber stated.
Digital Day 2021: EU countries commit to key digital initiatives for Europe's Digital Decade
At the online Digital Day 2021 (19 March) Ministers representing EU member states signed three Declarations to pool efforts and resources to promote international connectivity, incentivise the rollout of clean digital technologies and improve the regulatory environment for start-ups and scale-ups. These tangible commitments will help accelerate Europe's green and digital transformation and will contribute to the vision and goals of Europe's Digital Decade. In particular, 27 European countries signed the Declaration on European Data Gateways as a key element of the EU's Digital Decade, in which they committed to reinforce connectivity between Europe and its partners in Africa, Asia, the European Neighbourhood and Latin America. 25 European countries signed the Declaration on EU Startup Nations Standard, which aims to ensure that all European start-ups and scale-ups benefit from the best practices adopted by successful start-up ecosystems.
Finally, 26 European countries signed the Declaration on A Green and Digital Transformation of the EU to accelerate the use of green digital technologies for the benefit of the environment. At the same time, 26 Chief Executive Officers from the ICT sector joined the European Green Digital Coalition, committing on behalf of their companies to significantly reduce their carbon footprint by 2030, and to become climate neutral by 2040. Hosted by the Commission and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council, the fourth edition of the Digital Day is bringing together Members of the European Parliament, Ministers from Member States, industry executives and several other stakeholders. The last edition in 2019 focused on smart and sustainable agriculture, digitizing cultural heritage, as well as encouraging women's participation in the digital and technology sectors. Since then these initiatives have progressed significantly. More information is available in this joint press release by the Commission and the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU.
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