Electrocution: Using illegal third-party iPhone accessories

Sections: iDevice Accessories, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod, iPod Accessories

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third-party iphone accessoriesApple is investigating the death of a Chinese women who was allegedly electrocuted by her iPhone 5. The accident occurred while the woman was using her iPhone 5 as it charged on a Lightning connector. Though the Lightning connector was claimed as genuine, there seems to be something amiss; Apple’s iOS device chargers are only available in 5 watt and 12 watts. The iPhone 5 charger the electrocuted customer was using would be the 5 watt charger, as that is the one that ships with the device. Many are claiming the 5 watt iPhone charger doesn’t have enough  power to electrocute someone.

Though it may cause a shock sometimes—which Apple will gladly replace under warranty—the chargers don’t draw nearly as much power as a computer or larger device, and as a result, cannot kill a person. Many sites and forums began discussing the possibility that the woman may have been using a third-party Lightning connector to use with her iPhone, which may have caused the electrocution.

A number of bloggers chimed in with their own stories. One commenter noted that he had purchased a cheap iPhone 4S charger from a Chinese supplier, and that it gave off sparks and popped out of the socket, causing his iPod to fly forward.

A few years back, a piece of my iPhone wall plug stayed in the socket when I went to remove it from the wall, and began to spark a bit. I immediately shut off the electricity to the outlet and had the piece removed. Apple would later recall the chargers and refit them with a more solid version.

This latest electrocution goes to show just how dangerous illegal third party accessories can be and how they can damage your home, your device, and can even cost a life. I know I’ve learned my lesson, and that is why I refrain from purchasing cheap versions of chargers from illegal sources.

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  • Walt French

    Don’t know whose allegations you’re reading, but the facts I’ve seen allege she was electrocuted WHILE using her iPhone, not BY it.

    Details matter!

  • Jerry

    You use the term “illegal.” What law prevents one from using or selling these third party accessories? I think this is more an issue of Apple “authorized” accessories, also referred to as “MFI.”

  • Walt French

    Wow, lots of wrong-enough info here.

    First, what kills people is current coursing through their body. It doesn’t take much current to kill; a twentieth of what the adaptors can deliver will work. But two things protect people: first, it takes more than 5V to push enough current through a body. Our insides, filled with saline solution as they are, are pretty good conductors, but our skin is not. Unless you have a firm grip with wet hands, it will take much more.

    Second, electricity needs a complete “circuit,” a pathway for electricity to come in and go out. Just touching a high-voltage line isn’t enough; you get the shock when the voltage is relative to the ground (“earth” for Brits), and you have a good ground connection (water pipes are GREAT!) AND the source for the current. This is why the phone is such a tiny risk: very hard to touch make an input and output connection that goes thru your heart, since you can’t jam two hands into the tiny sockets and the case is only connected to one side of the wire.

    The risk, and probably the problem here, is if a cheaply-designed or defective adaptor is connected internally to the AC power, and the user is connected to the ground—AC almost always has one wire connected as the “ground” and when you do that, your body is completing a circuit through which a LOT of electricity can be pushed. I’ve personally gotten shocks from a BrandX iPod adaptor. I have the choice of being careful about using it (not touching anything else, especially not anything else wet) or throwing it away as a risk to others who come into my home (which I did).

    Since 1971, outlets in America that are installed near water are required to have GFCI, which detects when a circuit has gone outside the normal “in one pin, out the other” path and shuts it off. So you’d need BOTH a defective adaptor AND a defective outlet. Since 2008, when Apple recalled adaptors as potentially able to fail (no injuries reported, AFAICT), they’ve observed very high quality standards, and in my travels in Xinjiang Province I never saw GFCI outlets. (They’re in the better hotels in wealthier areas.)

    So very likely, this was an electrocution caused by some other product than Apple’s gear. The admonition against using phones while on a charger are overly cautious. Most importantly, every device in the bath ought to be either battery-only OR both well-designed AND plugged into a protected circuit.

  • WriterGuy

    No risk of electrocution in the bath? Obviously, another example of how the nanny state is out of control.

    I want the freedom to buy a house without all those silly safety features, like smoke detectors and GFCI outlets in the kitchen and bath. The Chinese know all about freedom like that. Their businesses aren’t burdened with environmental controls, and zoning laws and clean water this and fresh air that. Just the way God planned it, right?

  • Tom Johnson

    You say your OEM apple wall charger had issues but blame it on the aftermarket. Interesting.

  • Walt French

    Apple recalled early iPhone/iPod adaptors in 2008 because rough handling could cause one of the prongs to break off, exposing live power to the touch. Accounts said exactly zero people were injured. For the failure to cause “sparks” instead of a brief arc of current would require some other wires or metal connections nearby, but many people would not be so careful in their writing that way.

    Since then, I have not been able to find ANY instance of their adaptors malfunctioning in any way where the adaptors could injure people, but there are many reports, plus my own experience that BrandX adaptors, widely sold at discount electronics stores in the US can cause shock, shock that could be fatal in the bathroom.

    “Interesting” that you choose to cast aspersions on the thinking of a person whose safety was protected, after I’d documented the widespread risk of devices that are unsafe by design. What’s in it for you?