Apple bars radiation nanny from App Store

Jobsian police in shock moment of sanity

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Apple's App Store police are barring yet another app, but this time the developers are taking their cause to the public.

"It doesn't use Flash, and it's not porn, so why the ban?" asks Scott Piro, a spokesman for Tawkon, the Israeli developer of the eponymous app.

Well, possibly the best answer to that question is: "Because your app is alarmist and pointless."

Tawkon measures — or purports to measure — mobile phone radiation in real time, and warns you when it is of the opinion that you're in danger from the ravages of minuscule amounts of non-ionizing radiation.

The app is available for the Blackberry, and Tawkon says that a version for Android phones is coming this summer. But the iPhone version is being held up, and the company wants to enlist your help in getting it past the App Store police. Not only is it hosting an online petition, but it has also produced a hyper-cloying marketing video pleading its case.

The company says it has talked with Apple execs who told them that all they need to do is make a few "minor API modifications" in order to pass muster, but Tawkon is continuing their petition drive — ostensibly so that their "community" can shout out to Apple that "iPhone users are entitled to control their exposure to mobile phone radiation." And, of course, to pick up a wee bit of publicity in the process.

But can Tawkon actually prevent radiation-induced brain sizzle? It's hard to tell exactly what the app does, to be frank. The methodology behind Tawkon's radiation-sensing system, which they call RRI (real-time radiation indication), is somewhat opaque. The company claims that: "RRI leverages unique smart phones capabilities such as GPS, accelerometer, proximity sensors and more to help minimize radiation exposure during mobile phone usage."

If RRI determines that radiation levels are too high, you can take what Tawkon recommends are appropriate "Actions" to protect yourself from cancer-causing death rays — actions such as "Keep phone distant from your body" and "Changing location may help." Phenomenally insightful advise, don't you agree?

Of course, underlying all this palaver about mobile-phone induced brain death is the tiny fact that, well, no reputable study has definitively shown that handhelds cause cancer.

Tawkon carefully skirts this issue by attempting to play the "no one really knows" angle. On their website there's a page called The Debate that links to 45 articles (including one from The Reg) about said debate. The Debate is hardly helpful: among the links are, for example, multiple stories about the Interphone study. Some claim that said study proves mobile phones are harbringers of death, while others assert that the study says no such thing.

The Debate also includes links to a video in which noted epidemiologist, oncologist, and electromagnetic radiation boffin Larry King expresses his concern, but doesn't link to the US National Cancer Institute's FactSheet that notes: "Research studies have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancer."

The US Federal Communications Commission publishes a 28-question "Radio Frequency Safety" FAQ that include the finding: "There is no scientific evidence to date that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or a variety of other health effects, including headaches, dizziness or memory loss." The US Food and Drug administration, which is reponsible for mobile phone safety investigations, advises that: "The weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems."

But who are you going to trust? Government agencies and Big Science institutions such as the Cancer Institute, or Fox News, which looks at the lack of evidence for mobile-phone malice from the other direction and says: "No one has been able to prove that cell phones do not cause brain tumors"?

Ah, proving a negative — a pesky task.

The latest craze among mobile-phone fearers is the dissemination of radiation stats for individual phones. For example, the Environmental Working Group publishes the radiation stats of over 1200 phones, both those currently on the market and those not, and San Francisco recently ruled that mobile phones sold in the Cool Grey City of Love must be accompanied by their radiation rating.

The average Joe or Jane reading those listings will likely think "High, bad; low, good; buy low one."

We'll wager that it'd be the rare person you'd stop on the street who could give you a well-reasoned damage prediction based on specific absorption rate (SAR) specs, which is the metric used in the aforementioned ratings.

How many average users, for example, do you think could intelligently compare the relative danger — if any — of an iPhone 4's 1.17 watts per kilogram SAR versus a Blackberry 8820's 1.28 to 1.58 W/kg? Or explain why the US government maxes out a mobile phone's SAR at 1.6 W/kg? Or define "specific absorption rate"? Or tell you what the hell "watts per kilogram" means?

Which is, of course, why Tawkon wants to equip your smartphone with an app that'll simply tell you when you're in danger and when you're not, without you having to mess around with tiresome facts and figures. Even though the vast majority of reputable researchers and scientists say that there is no proof of any danger at all.

But fear of the unknown is a powerful motivator. And, at $9.99 a pop for Tawkon, a potentially lucrative revenue stream as well.

Now if only those nasty App Store police would let them aboard the gravy train. ®

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