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Misleading and Inaccurate Warning – 'Don’t Answer Calls While Charging Cell Phone'


Outline

Social media message claims that a boy died in Mumbai because he took a call while his mobile phone was charging. The message also claims that people should not make or answer calls when a mobile phone's battery is low because the radiation is 1000 times stronger.

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© Depositphotos.com/ danilchenko

Brief Analysis

The message is most likely derived from an Indian news report describing in incident in which a boy was seriously injured when his Chinese made mobile phone exploded in his hand while it was being charged. However, the boy was not killed as claimed in the message. There have been several reported incidents of injuries or deaths attributed to using mobile phones while they were being charged. But, in virtually every case, faulty or counterfeit phones or charges were being used. And the claim that radiation from a mobile phone is one thousand times stronger when the battery is low is misleading and inaccurate.

Example

PLS. SHARE THIS TO ALL RELATIVES & FRIENDS!!!

Today another boy died in Mumbai, because of attending a call while his mobile was still charging. That time he had a sudden vibration to his heart and then his hands got burned. 

So please don't answer calls or call out while charging your cell phone. When the phone's battery is low to the last bar don't make a call or answer any incoming calls because the radiation is 1000 times stronger. This can happen to any brand of mobile phones out there.

Mobile Phone Death Charging Warning


Detailed Analysis

A message currently going viral via social media claims that a boy died in Mumbai after taking a call while his mobile phone was being charged. According to the message, the boy experienced a "sudden vibration to his heart" before having his hands burnt. Thus, warns the message, people should not answer or make mobile phone calls while the phone is being charged.  The post features an image depicting a boy with a lacerated hand and wounds to his face, lying in a hospital bed.

The message tacks on an extra warning that claims that people should never make or take calls when their mobile phone battery is low because radiation is a whopping 1000 times stronger at that time.

The warning is apparently derived from a January 2014 Indian Express article describing an incident in which a boy was injured when his phone exploded in his hand. The report notes:

A 10-year-old boy from Dewas district was seriously injured when a mobile phone, said to be of Chinese-make, exploded in his hand while charging, police said today.

The incident occurred last night when Arihant was playing games on the handset while charging it at his home at Uday Nagar village, 100 km from here, they said.

However, the boy did not die as claimed and is reportedly out of danger.

In fact, as detailed by rumour debunking website Wafflesatnoon, there have been several reports in recent years of injuries or deaths related to use of a mobile phone while it was charging.  But in every report I have seen, faulty or counterfeit products were being used.

An article about battery charger devices on Howstuffworks.com explains how such devices transform normal household AC current down to a low voltage DC current. Thus, if the charger is working correctly, no high voltage charge should ever reach a person using the device.

But, if non standard charging units are used or the phone has counterfeit or poor quality parts, then there is always the possibility that the charging mechanism will work incorrectly and cause injury or death to users.  In fact, this is true for any device that is plugged into mains power.

However, there is no inherent or explicit danger in using a properly working mobile phone being charged with the appropriate and properly working charging unit. Moreover, the practise of using a mobile phone while it is charging is repeated many thousands of times per day all over the world without incident or injury.  This is especially true in an era when people use their smart phones constantly and for a great deal more than just making or taking phone calls.

While it is likely derived from the 2014 Indian Express report, the warning message also pays allegiance to a much older warning that has circulated since 2004. The original version was in turn derived from a 2004 Indian news report that describes the electrocution death of a man who answered his mobile phone while it was charging. But, details of the Indian man's demise are sketchy at best. It is again likely that the man was using faulty or non-standard equipment.

Furthermore, the claim in the message that using a mobile phone while the battery is low increases radiation exposure one thousand times is misleading an inaccurate. This claim has circulated for several years in other contexts.

A weak signal rather than a low battery level may in fact increase radiation.  A WHO report on Electromagnetic fields and public health notes:

Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power. 

There has been some suggestions that a phone with a low battery has to "work harder" to find and maintain a signal, but I could find no clear evidence to support this.

Perhaps the author of the message meant to warn that radiation might be stronger when the signal indicator was on the last bar rather than the battery level. A discussion of this issue on Skeptics Stack Exchange notes that:

There is no direct causative link between handset battery charge level and handset transmit power level.

Regardless of battery charge, when you are standing next to a transmission tower your handset is only outputting the minimum power needed to communicate. Not the maximum.

[……..]

Whilst a 1000 fold variation in power is of the right order of magnitude, your handset's battery level indicator is not a useful indicator of the amount of "radiation" currently emitted by the handset (in talk mode).

This supposed warning contains false and misleading information and sharing it with other is counterproductive.



Last updated: February 3, 2014
First published: February 3, 2014
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

References
Boy Seriously Injured After Mobile Phone Explodes
Is it Dangerous to Use a Cell Phone While Charging?
Inside a Power-Cube Transformer
Cell Phone Charging Danger Warning Email
Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones
Does a cell phone emit 1000 times more radiation when its battery is low?






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