Future Tense

Chinese Router Maker Implies That Wi-Fi Can Hurt Fetuses, Sparks Absurd Debate

Danger! (?)

Though there isn’t strong evidence to support it, controversy about the supposed link between cellphone radiation and cancer is always percolating somewhere on the Internet. And this week the conversation broadened to include pregnancy and Wi-Fi. You know this can’t end well.

The Chinese company Qihoo 360 unveiled a device, an upgrade to an existing product, that has three settings it describes on its website as wall penetration, balance, and “pregnant women.” That last one may sound weirdly specific, but Zhou Hongyi, the president and CEO of Qihoo, said, according to South China Morning Post, “We are targeting people who are afraid of radiation.”

The company says that the pregnancy mode cuts radiation emissions by 70 percent, but Hongyi also told SCMP, “We aren’t scientists. We haven’t done many experiments to prove how much damage the radiation from Wi-Fi can cause.” That’s true! “We leave the right of choice to our customers.” Oof.

Maybe no one would have dramatically called Qihoo out, except that the company is in a heated, longtime rivalry with competing router manufacturer Xiaomi. In a post on the company’s official Weibo page, Xiaomi wrote, “We firmly oppose and feel ashamed of those who create rumors and arouse instability for business purposes. … The so-called pregnancy mode is just a marketing tactic. Wi-fi usage is safe, so please rest assured when using it.”

BBC News points out that the United States has its share of those who argue that radiation from wireless systems can cause harm to pregnant women and their fetuses—like the BabySafe Project. But the World Health Organization writes on its website, “The overall weight of evidence shows that exposure to fields at typical environmental levels does not increase the risk of any adverse outcome such as spontaneous abortions, malformations, low birth weight, and congenital diseases.” WHO goes on to say that it recently conducted a thorough review of available research on mild exposure to electromagnetic fields and did not find evidence of health risks.

If nothing else, the situation produced some hilariously creepy exchanges. In response to Xiaomi’s comments, Hongyi said, “We will wait and see who has a more profound understanding of Wi-Fi routers, me or our competitors.” Seriously, don’t cross that dude.