9 Mobile phone myths put to the test
5G is harmful! Mobile phones are dirty! Blue light prevents you from falling asleep! These are just a few of the myths that keep making the rounds or stubbornly persist in people's minds. In this article, we'll clear things up for you - and provide you with numerous further links if you want to read on.
Myth #1: Mobile phone radiation & 5G is harmful
After the debate about harmful mobile phone radiation has faded into the background in recent years, it has gained momentum again with the introduction of 5G.
We are surrounded by radiation. Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth, even light and heat are nothing but electromagnetic radiation. Even if we switched off all electrical devices, there would still be basic radiation. In general, the smaller the wavelength, the more harmful the radiation - for us humans, the harmful wave frequency starts from UV radiation, i.e. a wavelength of 0.0000001 metres or less (i.e. even more zeros).
And where does mobile phone radiation lie on this scale? Well, up to now, mobile phones and smartphones have been transmitting mainly in the microwave range around 2.6 Ghz. With 5G, frequencies of up to 60 Ghz are now possible, but these are usually between 800 Mhz and 2.4 Ghz. Because of the smaller wavelength, more transmission masts are needed. However, despite the high frequency, the radiation emitted by 5G is not ionising, unlike X-rays, for example. It therefore does not have the energy to damage our genetic material.
Countless studies have also been unable to establish a connection between mobile phone radiation and cancer. However, they were able to determine a slight temperature increase in the body, even if only in the range of 0.1 °C. If you would like to learn more about mobile phone radiation in the body, we recommend the video from the German science programme Quarks.
Myth #2: Your smartphone is dirtier than the toilet
A few years ago, studies caused a stir: the smartphone is supposed to be dirtier than the toilet! This myth has been circulating on the internet since 2012, when scientists took bacteria samples from used smartphones available at the time.
But before you start dipping your smartphone in disinfectant, we have to give the all-clear. For one thing, many of these studies have methodological flaws, such as a too small group of people, a regional limitation or the focus on a certain professional group - bacteria found on the smartphones of American dentists (as in this study) do not necessarily exist on your smartphone. Moreover, these studies were conducted before the corona pandemic - it is unclear whether the stronger hygiene measures had an impact on the presence of pathogenic bacteria.
Myth: Partly true.
Myth #3: Children's hands are also involved in smartphone manufacturing
Child labour is internationally outlawed - but despite this, there are regular accusations that child hands are involved in production in certain countries.
First of all, no smartphone manufacturer is a blank slate: unfortunately, children are involved in the production chain of every smartphone manufactured. It is true that Apple, Samsung and others oblige their suppliers to respect human and labour rights. However, the interest of the big tech companies in checking whether their suppliers also comply with these rules and laws is rather low.
In 2016, the non-profit organisation Amnesty International found that children unfortunately also work in the cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. Cobalt is used for the batteries in mobile phones and other electronic devices. An estimated 40,000 child labourers work in Congo's cobalt mines, where they have to breathe in highly toxic cobalt dust every day and often pick up the cobalt with their bare hands. Many of the parents are unemployed or earn very little and therefore cannot afford the school fees - a vicious circle.
What can we do?
Many of the companies mentioned in the report have done their own research and assured that they do not tolerate child labour in the production chains. But as described earlier: Interest in inspections is low, as is transparency among many companies. It is easier to look the other way.
In the end, it's up to us: a life without smartphones is no longer an option for us. If we use our smartphones longer instead of buying a new one regularly, we can reduce our impact. (By the way: You can buy and sell used mobile phones via our alao marketplace). Donations to various local organisations can enable children to attend school. And we should also challenge politicians. Many countries have already passed supply chain laws. These laws oblige companies to ensure that their suppliers comply with environmental protection laws, human rights and children's rights. Non-compliance can result in severe fines. That would at least be a start.
Myth: Unfortunately true.
Myth #4: Blue light delays falling asleep
Millions of people in Germany suffer from sleep problems. One reason for this is said to be the blue light emitted by mobile phone displays. That's why Apple and Google introduced functions to reduce the amount of blue light. But where does this myth come from, and is it true?
As described above, light is also part of the electromagnetic spectrum. And all light is harmful, with blue light affecting the production of the sleep hormone melatonin the most because it has the most energy. And displays produce especially much of the blue light. Meanwhile, there are even glasses that are supposed to filter blue light. However, one should not be blinded by these marketing gimmicks. It is true that studies have found a connection between blue light and the production of sleep hormones - but the human body is far more complicated and numerous studies have methodological flaws, such as too few participants or premises that are foreign to everyday life.
Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim, a chemist and science communicator with a doctorate, has also devoted herself to this topic:
As you can see, blue light is only a small part of the chain. Much more important than the night light function of smartphones are, among other things, the food you eat before sleep, your mattress and bedding, the amount of light and noise in your bedroom, the brightness of your smartphone, your posture and sleeping position, and much more. So blue light is not the villain it is made out to be.
Myth: Partly true.
• In a study on mice, yellow light affected the circadian rhythm more than blue light. A summary and critical discussion of this study can be found at TIME.
• If you suffer from sleep problems, sleep apps can be of help. Here you can find an overview of the best sleep tracking apps.
Myth #5: Mobile phone radiation interferes with aircraft electronics
Even before the advent of smartphones, turning off your mobile phone during flights was common practice. The myth that mobile phone radiation interferes with onboard electronics originated with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC banned mobile phone use on planes to protect cell towers - high up, mobile phones connect to not just a few cell towers, but many, and that puts a strain on mobile phone networks.
The FAA, on the other hand, does not want to take any risks and banned mobile phone use during take-off and landing phases. Interestingly, however, the FAA's ban ends as soon as the aircraft reaches a certain altitude. And indeed: in a 2014 investigation, the US authority found that in certain types of aircraft, some Honeywell displays installed in the cockpit were indeed susceptible to radiation in the WLAN range. Those who are now worried can breathe a sigh of relief: all affected displays had to be replaced by 2019. But older aircraft types with outdated technology are also very susceptible to mobile phone radiation. The wiring inside the aircraft amplifies the radiation and can interfere with old galvanometers and GPS transmitters. Modern aircraft, however, are better protected against this.
But just because mobile phone use is allowed on the plane does not mean that you should use it. For one thing, it is extremely rude to talk loudly on the phone, and for another, it can be very expensive: One megabyte can cost up to 30 euros!
Myth: Partially disproved.
Myth #6: iPhones are safer than Android smartphones
Many users reach for an iPhone in the belief that they are more secure than Android smartphones. However, iPhone users should not rely too much on this statement.
It is true that iOS tends to be more secure than the competition due to its closed architecture. But even Apple is not infallible and does allow infected and malicious apps into the App Store more often. However, these apps keep to themselves, i.e. one infected app cannot infect another - this is precisely why anti virus apps are useless on the iPhone.
Android is more open than iOS and was indeed quite insecure for a long time, but Android has made enormous progress in terms of security in recent years. Both operating systems will not be immune to critical gaps in the future though.
Myth: Partially disproved.
Myth #7: More megapixels = better photos
12 megapixels, 36 megapixels, 48 megapixels, even 100 megapixel smartphones have already been announced by some manufacturers. The sky seems to be the limit. But do more megapixels also bring better photos?
The answer is clear: No. The most common are 12 megapixels on iPhones and 48 megapixels on top Android models. But: The 48 megapixels are nothing other than 12 megapixels. This comes from a process called "pixel binning". Here, in simplified terms, four pixels are combined to form one large pixel. And even the most megapixels are of no use if the rest of the hardware cannot keep up with the camera's data processing.
Instead, look at how good low-light shooting, image stabilisation and shooting options are. More megapixels lead to noisier images - so you won't get that beautiful holiday snapshot 😉
Myth #8: Rice helps with water damage
Your smartphone has fallen into the water and you're looking for a way to get it dry again? Then rice is definitely the wrong method. The reason: rice only removes moisture when it comes into contact with water. Moreover, the rice grains are so small and can get into the charging socket or SIM card slot and block them - and then the only option is a costly repair. Better are the small packets of silicate that are often enclosed in shoe boxes.
Myth #9: Facebook & Google are listening in
Who hasn't experienced this? You're talking to a friend about wanting a baby, and all you see are adverts about baby clothes and parenthood? Are Facebook and Google listening in?
Well, the answer is a bit longer: one reason why you are served these ads: Because you have looked for it before. If you want to have a baby, in many cases you will find out before you talk about it with your girlfriend or boyfriend.
The format PULS Reportage from Bayerischer Rundfunk has also devoted itself to the bugging question and developed apps for iOS and Android that are designed to bug users.
The result: With the iPhone, a permanent eavesdropping attack was not possible - as soon as the device was sent into stand-by mode, the app's ability to eavesdrop on you ended. In addition, iOS informs you when an app is accessing the microphone in the background. Android only offers this functionality from Android 12 onwards - before that, it was indeed possible to eavesdrop on you via detours.
However, there is a catch: if Facebook and Co. were to eavesdrop on you, it would be noticed, namely through a significantly increased battery consumption - and that with millions or even billions of users. The probability of an eavesdropping attack is higher with obscure Android apps that are used by only a few users.
• If you can't watch the video above, you can find a summary at Heise.
Conclusion: Myth #10: Changing tariffs is very difficult
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