Ask Techland: Best Methods for No-Touch Cellphone Use

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The recent World Health Organization report saying that cell phone radiation is “possibly carcinogenic” has caused a bit of a stir.

On one end of the spectrum, the report itself categorizes cell phones alongside DDT and car exhaust in terms of potential risk while on the other end, the wireless association, CTIA, says that the “classification does not mean cellphones cause cancer” and points to statements by both the FCC and FDA to back up its claims.

Whatever the case, the whole cellphones-cause-cancer idea isn’t a new one by any stretch of the imagination and it’s not a bad time to visit (or revisit) ways to use your phone without actually touching it to your head. I’ve been fielding a fair number of questions from friends, family and colleagues about ways to do this—many of them being along the lines of whether Bluetooth earpieces are any safer—and here are some of my thoughts.

Bluetooth: Is it safe?

bluetoothMost wireless headset accessories use the Bluetooth standard. Bluetooth is a wireless technology that creates what’s known as a personal area network, or PAN, with a range of about 30 feet.

The official Bluetooth industry group contends that Bluetooth is perfectly safe, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, and even goes as far as recommending Bluetooth headsets “to mitigate potential cell phone cancer risks.” The group cites the following recommendation from the American Cancer Society:

“Studies now under way should give a clearer picture of the possible health effects of cell phone use in the future. Until then, there are several things that people who are concerned about RF waves can do to limit their exposure.

Use a hands-free device such as a corded or cordless earpiece. Using an earpiece moves the antenna away from the user’s head, which decreases the amount of RF waves that reach the head. Corded earpieces emit virtually 0 RF waves (although the phone itself still emits small amounts of RF waves that can reach parts of the body if close enough, such as on the waist or in a pocket). Bluetooth earpieces have an SAR value of around 0.001 watts/kg (less than one thousandth the SAR limit for cell phones as set by the FDA and FCC).”

The big takeaway? We’re not really sure how dangerous cellphones are but if you’re concerned about it, using a Bluetooth headset may be considered a safer alternative. That being said, Bluetooth still uses wireless signals and you’re sticking a wireless-signal-using device inside your ear.

There are good alternatives other than Bluetooth earpieces as well, though.

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