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Communications Hardware

More Exploding Cellphones In The News 328

Posted by timothy
from the stick-this-in-your-ear dept.
adityapandey writes "It's happened again. Yahoo News has another story on exploding cellphones. Most of these mishaps are blamed on counterfeit batteries and chargers. Recently, Kyocera recalled about 40,000 cellphones for free replacement, because of batteries overheating and venting superheated gases. Yet, cellphone makers claim that such incidents are too rare to care about. Shouldn't cellphone companies be making people aware of the hazards of usage?"
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More Exploding Cellphones In The News

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:51AM (#10908880)
    The "Can you hear me now?" guy trying to talk from his neck.
  • Get the Department of Defense together with Verizon and para-drop a shitload of cellphones in Mosul and other Iraqi hot-spots with flyers on how the insurgents can call their friends.

    Instead, they'll be calling Allah.

    "Can we blow you up now?" "Good."
  • by JPM NICK (660664) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:54AM (#10908897)
    170 million cell phones and 83 reports of cell phones exploding or catching fire in the past two years. 83/170,000,000 = 4.88 x 10^-7. To me, this is way within acceptable margin of error or uncontrollability. Think about how many computer power supplies have shorted out and caught fire (i have had 2 at my job in the last year, and we only have 17 computers). It is a shame, and I am sure it is painful for the people and i do feel bad, but lets not get out of hand with this.
    • "To me, this is way within acceptable margin of error or uncontrollability."

      Until your mom's hair catches fire.

      "It is a shame, and I am sure it is painful for the people and i do feel bad, but lets not get out of hand with this."

      Dunno where you're from, but such items come with warranties about being free from defects, and electrical items that catch fire could be considered defective. Are you this lacksadaisical about anything you buy?

      • by Ironsides (739422) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:12AM (#10909059) Homepage Journal
        Warranties mean that if there is a problem, exchange for a working item. Defective is only applied when there is something fundamentally wrong with the item itself. Such as those hard drives that had a 33% failure rate in the first year about two years ago. 4.88 10E-7 is a lower failure rate than I have had with bad DVDs. (4 disks bad, ~300 Disks bought, 1.3percent failure).
        • "4.88 10E-7 is a lower failure rate than I have had with bad DVDs."

          And what injury could you sustain from a bad DVD?

          • And what injury could you sustain from a bad DVD?

            Puncture wound. Now what does that have to do with failure rates?

            • "Puncture wound. Now what does that have to do with failure rates?"

              Lordy, another one. Right, Slashdot uses a system of threading for 'comments', which allows for the nesting of multiple answers to an original post, which gives people plenty of opportunity to produce unoriginal and bland 'funnies' in response to a 'straight' line. So when you (and I'm laughing internally. Still!) said "Now what does that have to do with failure rates?", you may not have read the entirety of the discussion before fever
      • Pretty much any product you buy has some kind of danger associated with it, and a chance for mishap (i.e. papercuts). Some things are obviously more dangerous then others - but if the percentages are that low - it is insignificant. Given those low percentages - there is a reasonable assumption that the cell phone you use will be safe. It is unreasonable to change the entire system for a nil amount of cases. Now I am of the mindset that one life is worth more then any amount of money - but still - we do
      • by HoldenCaulfield (25660) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:20AM (#10909121) Journal
        Okay, so let's say my mother's hair catches fire. While I don't expect everyone to respond the same way, I'm not going to think because the odds somehow were against my mother that the cell company is suddenly evil. Would I hope that the company would do the right thing and cover any damages/medical? Sure.

        The grandparent mentioned the odds are something like 1 out of 2 million. Would you prefer the cell companies re-engineer their batteries, perhaps resulting in bulkier or more expensive phones? At some point, the investment isn't worth the return . . . much like the scene in Fight Club where they're discussing that it's cheaper to deal with the defects than to do recalls . . .
        • The companies should do everything they can to prevent catastrophic failures of their products from harming human life. Yes, even if safety means they can't produce tiny products for tiny prices, I still expect them to make their product safe.

          If the phones had a 1 out of 500,000 chance of killing someone, would you still be okay with demanding the low price unsafe product?
          • by Andy Dodd (701)
            If you RTFA, in all three cases of battery recall/explosion incidents, the companies in question dropped their suppliers like a hot potato and switched to new suppliers.

            In short, the companies did as much as they could to prevent it from ever happening again. Switching suppliers in a short time period is not a small (or cheap) task.
          • by abulafia (7826) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @12:27PM (#10909649)
            The companies should do everything they can to prevent catastrophic failures of their products from harming human life. Yes, even if safety means they can't produce tiny products for tiny prices, I still expect them to make their product safe.

            You have to define your terms. What does "safe" mean? Does it mean that the product will never harm someone? If so, then the product cannot be produced - there is no such thing as a perfectly safe object.

            If you accept that it is acceptable that sold objects can have some margin of risk associated with them, then, yes, your next question comes into play.

            If the phones had a 1 out of 500,000 chance of killing someone, would you still be okay with demanding the low price unsafe product?

            That depends on the price point for more or less safety, the usage pattern, what exactly the "chance of killing someone" means (e.g., over the lifetime of the product, per use, etc.), and the actual utility of the item.

            These are partially actuarial questions, and partially personal utility/economic questions only individuals can make for themselves. There are products out there that have much higher death/serious injury risks associated with them that are happily bought and sold every day (think parachutes and prescription drugs, for starters).

            Bruce Schneier has a great quote about this:

            More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows just how good we are at evaluating risks.

            - Bruce Schneier
            Another example: More children drown every year in 5 gallon buckets than due to guns. I see no "million mom marches" against these preventable deaths, even though safety features could be thought up to prevent bucket drownings at significantly less cost-per-unit than some of the features proposed for guns. (Sorry, I couldn't find a reference for that figure on buckets online - I read it in the Economist some time back.)

            If you don't accept that safety is an economic tradeoff, you'll never be able to make rational choices about safety.

            (For my part, I hate cell phones, so I don't have one because the (negative) utility of the product is certainly not worth the cost - no risk analysis needed.)

          • "If the phones had a 1 out of 500,000 chance of killing someone, would you still be okay with demanding the low price unsafe product?"

            I'd take those odds. If you think 1 in 500,000 is a realistic chance, I have some lottery tickets I'd like to sell you.

        • How about the scene in Tommy Boy where Tommy is talking to a potential client and the client mentions his brake pads don't have a warranty printed on the box but the Zalinski pads do?

          Just because a phone has a warranty doesn't mean that it's going to be defect free. It's up to the manufacturer to ensure that the components and assembly is up to a high enough standard to produce a quality product.

          I suppose we could always go back to bag phones with sealed lead acid batteries, those were mostly safe. You

      • Seriously, you take a risk walking outside everyday. Who knows, there's an infintesimal chance you could be hit by a stray meteor...

        Yes, things come with warranties about being free from defects, but should we REALLY be THAT concerned about something with such a low failure rate? If that were the case, then just sign up for a padded room with a lock in it, it's pretty much the only place you'll be anywhere near safe...both from yourself and others. Of course...you might rip out the padding and try and eat
      • by kfg (145172) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:38AM (#10909266)
        . . .electrical items that catch fire could be considered defective. Are you this lacksadaisical about anything you buy?

        And yet a candle that doesn't catch fire could be considered defective. A candle that isn't defective can burn your house down (or your mom's hair off) even when used as directed. Damned if I'd let my mom buy one of those things, but I can't believe she'd be so lackadaisical as to actually do so.

        Dude, all electrical devices carry a certain risk of fire, your house for instance (yes, your house is most likely an electrical device). I wouldn't go to sleep tonight if I were you. Houses catch fire from inside the walls all the time.

        If the odds of it happening to me are lower than being hit by an asteroid, well, I'll take whatever precautions seem warrented, like feeling the charger/battery the first couple times I use it to see if it's overheating, but no, I'm not going to worry about it much. That way lies madness.

        . . .such items come with warranties about being free from defects. . .

        Warranties do not actually certify that any particular item is defect free. This isn't possible in this particular universe. There is always a risk factor involved. In fact, ironically, that's why products come with "guaruntees," because they can't actually give you one that it won't fail, but can guaruntee that some particular, but as yet unidentified, unit will fail.

        What they can do is give you compensation in the event of failure, which is the sole function of a warranty.

        If you really think they're there to protect you from harm you need to do a good deal more thinking about the nature of risk, which is not a bad idea in general anyway, and you look like you could use it.

        KFG
      • Until your mom's hair catches fire.

        Yes, I would be upset if a cell phone caused my mom's hair to catch on fire. That doesn't mean that I'm worried that such a thing will occur. I always find it absurd when people talk about "even one defect" or "just one death" being "one too many" without putting the matter into context.

        If we're talking about 170 million cellphones, 83 defects certainly aren't unreasonable. I also believe that a drug that was used by 170 million people wouldn't be unsafe if caused 83 de
    • I think in fairness, I don't generally hold my computer's power supply next to my head. Usually, even if the machine's directly next to me (or in front of me) there's quite a cushion between the power supply and my body (big hard case, optical drive, etc)

      It is a small percentage, but obviously if these accidents are avoidable the manufacturers should be making every effort to prevent them from happening again. That's not to suggest they're not, or that they need further incentives to do so. It's also not

    • I am sure it is painful for the people

      At several levels.

      First, there's being burned on the purchase of a defective phone.

      Second, there's being burned BY the exploding phone.

      Third, there's being burned by your health insurance company when they refuse to cover the accident. (Harvard Pilgrim LOVES to do this whenever they can. I was in a car crash and they're refusing to cover my hospital time. Can't say more on that as the lawyers have it at the moment)

      Fourth, there's the burn of having to tell peop
    • I thought about comparing that statistic with the chance of getting struck by lightning.. off I go to google, and look what I found:

      Two Koreans with cellphones struck by lightning [engadget.com]

      Forget dodgy batteries - you're going to die no matter what you do!

      (FYI: for an American, you have a 1 in 280,000 chance [lightningsafety.com] of being zapped.)
    • How do these figures compare with mobile (aka cell) phones being struck by lightning? I believe that's the correct unit of measure, and is probably more likely.
    • Think about how many computer power supplies have shorted out and caught fire (i have had 2 at my job in the last year, and we only have 17 computers). It is a shame, and I am sure it is painful for the people and i do feel bad, but lets not get out of hand with this.

      Sure that may be true but most of us don't hold computer power supplys up against our head for long periods of time. Basically a few of these cases are bound to happen, but with counterfeit chargers and batterys being the majority of the caus

    • I don't know about you, but I generally don't hold my PSU up to my face when I'm using my PC. Of course laptops are also a risk, but for those that have died it's usually just a lack of power-on and no fancy sparks or fire.

      A laptop goes off on one's lap could be a danger, but chances are the desktop isn't so much so. I've had plenty of PSU's go, some smoking nicely - usually a blown cap and never anything that was much of a risk to anything outside the box.
  • by downward dog (634625) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:54AM (#10908900) Homepage
    83 cell phones have exploded or caught fire--but there are millions that haven't, so it is not a big deal.

    Hmmm... How well did that logic work against Ephedra or Firestone Wilderness AT tires?
  • by Sai Babu (827212) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:54AM (#10908901) Homepage
    TSA completes calculation (2+2) and determines cell phone and computer batteries pose a greater threat aboard planes than boxcutters of nail clippers. Well maybe not yet, but if trends continue, perhaps. In this article [billingsgazette.com] we read of exploding batteries and increasing power density. "If you're cramming more and more power in a small space, what you're making is a small bomb," said Carl Hilliard...

    Exploding batteries have already caused disruption at LAX [washingtontimes.com].

    The subject of potential weapons [flyertalk.com] on planes has been beat to death, but the battery angle is still interesting. Especially when you consider that a weapons intimidation power is more a function of public perception than killing power. The more press exploding batteries receive, the greater the perceived danger. Never mind that a torn beer can can do more damage.

  • Driving (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:58AM (#10908930)
    I'd be a lot more afraid of getting run over by a cell phone talkin' driver than my own cell phone exploding...
    • What about getting run over by a cell phone talkin' driver whose phone just exploded?

      I'd say that thought makes me panic a bit.
  • Why is it... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by automag (834164) * on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:58AM (#10908933)
    ...that such recalls must necessarily result in a ton of negative publicity for the company recalling the product with... ummm... 'challenges'?

    Seems to me that there's no better way to ensure that companies will do all they can to cover up the problems with their products when they know that any admittal of problems is only going to cause negative publicity, lawsuits, etc.

  • What??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by isa-kuruption (317695) <kuruption@[ ]uption.net ['kur' in gap]> on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:58AM (#10908934) Homepage
    Most of these mishaps are blamed on counterfeit batteries and chargers.
    and then...
    Shouldn't cellphone companies be making people aware of the hazards of usage?

    So you want cellphone companies to tell you to not buy batteries off of ebay, but only one of their batteries from one of their approved resellers? And then you'll be complaining about unfair business practices, how they are trying to monopolize the battery business, etc etc.
    • So you want cellphone companies to tell you to not buy batteries off of ebay, but only one of their batteries from one of their approved resellers? And then you'll be complaining about unfair business practices, how they are trying to monopolize the battery business, etc etc.

      This sounds like a job for ...

      Da Da Ta Daaaa

      The Federal Copyright Enforcement Czar !

  • by k4_pacific (736911) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <cificap_4k>> on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:58AM (#10908935) Homepage Journal
    Several years ago, I read an article predicting that cell phones would explode in the coming years. They were right!!
  • not a huge deal (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Cell phone companies already warn against using third party batteries which are often substandardly made. The risk is even greater with regards to Lithium Ion and Lithium Polymer batteries which require additional protection circuitry to prevent overheading / overcharging. Poorly made knockoffs often do not have these safety mechanisms or are not properly compatible with the power management subsystem in the mobiles.

    Not much to see here, don't buy shoddy accessories.
  • by Sgt O (832802) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @10:59AM (#10908942)
    low level radiation, etc... My old Nokia phone used to make my monitor flicker really bad if a call was coming in and would actually turn on my cordless electric shaver if it was near by. (Yes, I got rid of it)
    • Do you understand the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation? Apparently not.
      • UV light is non-ionizing radiation, yet it is a well known cancer risk and is able to fuse together adjacent nucleotides in the DNA. It is frequently used to kill bacteria because it is so effective at damaging DNA.

        Your microwave oven is also non-ionizing, yet it obviously has a significant effect on biological matter. And cell phone frequencies are rapidly approaching the microwave bands.

        I don't think radiation is a serious concern, and occasional use of a cell phone is unlikely to cause permanent dam
    • by phorm (591458)
      Even the newer Nokias cause some interference. When my gf's went off it used to make the alarm clock pop and stutter. The alarm would actually start buzzing before the phone rang.

      Not sure if it's harmful though, as it could just be your standard interference. Given the proximity of the phone to one's crotch though, the thought of radiation isn't such a good thing.

    • Simply don your Slashdot-approved tin hat (available now at OSDN.com), as it has built-in protection from cell phone radiation. Make sure to use the supplied grounding strap, affixing the free end firmly to the steel pad on the bottom of your shoe.

      I've realized why the cell phone makers aren't concerned about random explosions. It just saves their users from succombing to brain cancer. Humane, in a way, and cheaper to litigate.

  • by GillBates0 (664202)
    Can you hear me n*BOOM*
  • it IS too rare (Score:3, Insightful)

    by doowy (241688) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:00AM (#10908953) Homepage
    Now, don't get me wrong, I feel bad for anyone who put a burning hot device up against their face, but 83 people?

    83 reports of this in the past 2 years - out of what, 100,000,000 cell-phone users? That's is extremley rare.

    I'm not saying such a problem should be ignored, but you can't expect anyone to prioritize it when occurences are so rare.

    and how many of the 83 reports of 'exploding batteries' were due to misuse? "the box didn't say I couldn't put my phone in the microwave"
  • Boo! hiss! boo! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dave420 (699308) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:01AM (#10908960)
    It's funny, as most people here get all pissy when Nokia introduces protection for their phones by allowing nokia-only batteries to be used. Guess what? It's for this exact thing. Nokia can't rate every battery each company comes out with for their phones, yet if one blows up, it's the phone manufacturer (not the battery manufacturer) who gets the bad press. It's protecting their business, pure and simple. :)
  • Couple of years ago Motorola was announcing to everyone and his dog, that it will install drm-like chips in its batteries to "solve the problem of counterfeit, exploding batteries".

    I don't know if they actually started to do this, but I'm sure that it had nothing to do with vendor's batteries being sometimes an order of magnitude more expensive than generic, good brand betteries of the same parameters.

    Robert
  • by automag (834164) * on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:02AM (#10908966)
    ...is figuring out how *I* can make *your* cellphone explode when you're being a loud a**hole and chatting away at the next table, or what have you...
  • by Black Parrot (19622) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:02AM (#10908975)


    > Shouldn't cellphone companies be making people aware of the hazards of usage?

    Warning! Using this device in public places such as movie theaters or churches may result in a vigorous ass beating.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:09AM (#10909036)
    Lithium ion batteries, so popular for their power density, are inherently unstable if they are overcharged or become too hot (about 140 F is the threshold). As a spokesperson for one battery maker said "When you heat this material up, it (can) reach an onset temperature that begins to self-heat and progresses into fire and explosion." One battery company [valence.com] claims to make a "safe" battery that uses phosphates, not cobalt oxides in its lithium ion. They even have a video demonstration [valence.com] that we can slashdot.
    • That's exactly the person I was going to quote. Basically leaving your phone in a car on a hot sunny day is enough.
    • Lithium ion batteries, so popular for their power density, are inherently unstable if they are overcharged or become too hot (about 140 F is the threshold).

      These batteries are very tricky... I would advise everyone to buy A-brand batteries only, but even good batteries charged on a proper charger can explode, if the pack becomes 'unbalanced' ie. one cell is discharged less than the others in the pack, and can thus become overcharged during the charge cycle.

      I use these batteries myself in R/C models, an

  • ....of using cellphones? I don't think so. First, any mandated "awareness" is going to end up being much like the warnings on over-the-counter medicines--vague warnings in legalese/medicalese, printed in flyspeck 8, on whatever packaging said phone comes in. Other than compulsive readers like myself, who actually reads that?

    Also, let's let Darwinism have a chance for once, and weed the idiots out who use the "counterfeit" betteries. As for those who unluckily got one through the cellphone ssupplier...
  • Yikes (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mogrify (828588)
    What if cell malware like Skulls [theregister.co.uk] could be used to cause the battery to explode? Perhaps by modifying the firmware to overcharge or overload the battery? A well-written worm would have them going off like popcorn...
  • That there is a one in a million chance that the battery may burst into flames? I suppose that's a good use of everyone's attention span.....
  • By design (Score:2, Funny)

    by zrq (794138)
    I thought they were supposed to do that.

    Don't you remember ... in StarTrek, one of the standard ways of getting out of a tricky situation would be to 'switch my phaser to overload', throw it round the corner and hide. Five seconds later, loud bang, and no problem .. er, no wall ... and possibly no building .... depending on the charge left in the battery at the time.
  • by cheddarlump (834186) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @11:16AM (#10909083)
    I work at a cell-phone store, and you would not believe what people do to their phones. I have seen phones get hot, vent hot gas, catch fire, bulge and almost pop, etc. In each case, it was because of something the customer had done to damage their phone. Usually, it's water damage, teenie bopper kids taking their phone into the shower cuz they can't miss that one important call. Or, even more benignly, (is that a Bushism?) if you have a little bit of drippings in your car's cupholder, and throw the phone in there when you get in the car, guess where the charging circuitry is located? Usually in the bottom of the phone. So, the next time you go plug your phone in, instead of the beautifully complex current-limiting charging circuit, you have yesterday's mocha providing a dead short.. BOOM. Please, PLEASE look to the stupid masses for the cause BEFORE blaming the manufacturers. I know there are bad designs out there, but 99.999999999 times out of a hundred, it's the idiots using them everyday. really. (flame suit on)
    • Cell Phone Explosion Cause:

      User=ID10T
  • May be it's time we start getting them manufactured in the US. We all know that the US has the "best" of technology when compared to the rest of the world.

    Be careful. There's a potential of lawsuites in th every litigious American society.

    Cb..

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I recently found a new battery for my Motorola, after searching for several weeks. I am in the UK btw. No doubt it's a "counterfeit", but I am pleased to find one of any sort.

    "Car Phone Warehouse" at Bristol Cribbs Causeway is listed on the Motorola Web site as one of their Agents. When I asked them for a new battery they treated me as crazy. I asked therefore what was meant by their being a Motorola "agent", and they said their workshop could provide "spares" but the battery was a "consumable", not a
    • Is that your phone is considered a consumable. Useful for a limited time, then you should fork over more cash and buy a new one.

      No seriously, as with many other electronic products the return/exchange rates on phones are very high. Many of the things are really quite fragile and over time will severely degrade in performance, battery life, etc.
  • by mr100percent (57156) * on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @12:04PM (#10909472) Homepage Journal
    I remember the delay in getting my phone earlier this year: The press release said the reason for the recall last time was "Kyocera has received four confirmed reports of rapid disassembly."... "Continued use of the phone with the '-05' battery could result in injury in the form of burns due to the battery's rapid disassembly (which may appear as an explosion), or emission of excessive heat."

    So in field of Public Relations objects don't explode, they just rapidly disassemble!!!.....
  • Kyocera Profits (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Digital_Quartz (75366) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @12:08PM (#10909503) Homepage
    Kyocera made about $2.7B [yahoo.com] US in profit last year. If they say "Our cell phones are dangerous", they'll loose sales. If they instead, let one or two people blow up every year, they only have to pay out a couple million in lawsuit damages each year. Do the math.
    • Take the number of phones in the field, (A), and multiply it by the probable rate of failure, (B), then multiply the result by the average out-of-court settlement, (C). A times B times C equals X...

      If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.
  • Is that where they got the idea for that commercial where the guy boasts about this "electric shock" phone and ends up frying his office mate!! ;-)
  • Well then if we are going to warn people about the phone exploding we should warn them of other things that could happen to them that are of similar odds.

    Warning:

    The use of this device may cause large carniverous fish to attack you while walking down the streat in New York

    . May attract the ledgendary figure known as big foot with cute ring tones which could result in user getting fleas.

    A piece of blue ice may fall from the sky and crush your girlfriend who just happens to be sleeping with your brothe

  • by lxt (724570) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @02:01PM (#10910588) Journal
    ...a friend of mine took his phone out with him in a heavy storm, and it got rather water damaged. He decided he'd "dry out the phone" by taking the battery out, and placing it on his radiator...luckily, we were all in the room at the time, and able to enlighten him somewhat...
  • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday November 24, 2004 @02:05PM (#10910647) Homepage
    Despite what the storey headline says, the cell-phone industry is not well served by telling everyone that their products could explode and cause injury.

    So they're not going to make sure to tell consumers about it unless they have no choice. And until they can be shown it really happens with their products which are used as designed, they may not believe it.

    In reality, the way industry will make this decision is a cost-benefit analysis. In the airline industry, for example, wether or not to do a refit/new safety measure/etc is defined by a formula which measures how often it's likely to happen, and how much it costs if it did.

    Using an average industry payout of $2mil/death (I think that's close), a $20 million upgrade will only happen if 10 people are expected to die from it. If the math says the upgrade is cheaper than paying for deaths, it gets done. If 3 people might die over 20 years, then the math says it's cheaper to let people die and pay settlements than to make the change.

    It would be naive to think that the cell-phone industry is going to start running around saying "oh my god, they exploded".

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