A viral news story on Weibo, a Twitter-like micgroblogging platform, has the family of a 23-year-old woman from China’s northwestern Xinjiang province demanding an explanation as to how Ma Ailun was electrocuted and died last Thursday as she tried to answer a call on her iPhone 5 while it was charging.
According to the Weibo account of Ma’s older sister, she’s calling on Apple, Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), the maker of the iPhone, to investigate what happened and warn others about using their phones while plugged in. “[I] hope that Apple Inc. can give us an explanation,” her post reads. “I also hope that all of you will refrain from using your mobile devices while charging.”
State news media Xinhua is reporting that Ma’s father, Ma Guanghui, and local police in the Xinjiang city of Changji have confirmed the woman’s cause of death, saying she was indeed electrocuted and that her body exhibited signs of electrocution. Police officials are still not certain the phone was the cause of the fatal electrocution.
Apple China has since announced its own investigation into the incident. “We are deeply saddened to learn of this tragic incident and offer our condolences to the Ma family,” the statement said. “We will fully investigate and cooperate with authorities in this matter.” According to Reuters, Apple declined to comment on further questions, like whether or not this was an isolated issue. Still, many don’t believe the phone actually has anything to do with Ma’s death.
The Atlantic put together several explanations for why Ma could have been electrocuted by the phone, the first being that she owned counterfeit Apple products. Fake Apple products are common in China, where counterfeit versions of a range of products can easily be found. Fake products, unsurprisingly, are not certified by Apple and are not necessarily safe to use. While Ma’s sister dispelled rumors that Ma had a fake iPhone, the Wall Street Journal suggests that Ma could have been using a fake charger. An uncertified charger could potentially turn a run-of-the-mill iPhone into a “pocket grenade” because of the safety standards of current flow and voltage aren’t met. Earlier this year, the Chinese Consumer Association released a warning that Chinese electronics markets were going to be hit by a “flood” of chargers that pose a safety hazard.
Another theory proposed by The Atlantic is unlikely, but lines up with the possibility of a freak accident. The family had reported that Ma got out of the bathtub to answer the phone call. Water is known to lower a person’s resistance to voltage, and in some instances, handling electronics while you're wet can lead to electrocution. According to the report, handling an iPhone that is plugged into its charger will not electrocute a person coming out of water. Ma would have been soaking wet, and thus have an extremely lowered resistance, to be vulnerable to electrocution by the plugged-in iPhone.