The Washington Post

Apple investigating claims that iPhone electrocuted Chinese woman

Apple said Monday it is investigating allegations that a 23-year-old Chinese woman was electrocuted when she answered a call on a charging iPhone.

A woman stands near a poster of an Apple's iPhone 5 at a mobile phone shop in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A woman stands near a poster of an Apple’s iPhone 5 at a mobile phone shop in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

According to the woman’s family and Chinese media reports, Ma Ailun, a former flight attendant from western China, died over the weekend after answering her phone. But while a local investigator told the Wall Street Journal that the woman suffered “an obvious electronic injury,” investigators don’t yet know whether the phone, the charger or something else is responsible for Ma’s death.

Ma’s family, on the other hand, appear to have come to their own conclusions: In a viral post on the Chinese microblog site Sina Weibo, translated by China’s state-run Xinhua news agency, a woman identified as Ma’s older sister wrote that she hoped “Apple Inc. can give us an explanation” and that “all of you will refrain from using your mobile devices while charging.”

In a brief statement to Chinese media, Apple said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of this tragic incident and offer our condolences to the Ma family. We will fully investigate and cooperate with authorities in this matter.”

This is only the most recent of Apple’s troubles in China, where the company has taken a series of beatings this year. In late March, China’s state-run media launched an offensive against the tech giant, complaining that Apple’s warranty policies were unfair to Chinese consumers. The complaints eventually — and unusually — forced CEO Timothy Cook to issue an apology in early April.

Apple imposters also abound in China, a country not exactly known for its protection of intellectual property; the company has contended with implausibly realistic faux-Apple stores and knock-off products, as well as a flourishing “grey market” that sources products from abroad and resells them in China.

China has also seen a recent influx of phone chargers that are not certified by the country’s consumer safety agency, according to a May report in Xinhua. The report warned that such adapters could cause fire, burns and, potentially, electrocution.

Caitlin Dewey is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (tinyletter.com/cdewey)
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