Mobile app measures cellphone radiation

In June, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to require retailers to post information about how much radiation cellphones emit. Now, an Israeli company is capitalizing on the as-yet-unjustified anxiety, allowing phone users to monitor their radiation exposure at every moment of every day — via a mobile phone app.

Tawkon uses an algorithm to take data from the phone — including the signal strength and where the phone is on your body -- and alerts you when the radiation reaches the "red" level. If you are talking on the phone, it will prompt you to use the speaker or a headset so you don't hold the device right next to your head.

CEO Gil Friedlander says Tawkon does these things in part by using technology built into smartphones for completely different purposes. For instance, smartphones can sense when a phone is held to your head (so that your ear doesn't wreck havoc on the touchscreen), and Tawkon feeds this positioning information into its radiation algorithm.

The app produces snazzy graphs that let users to track their exposure to radiation over the course of a phone call, a day, or a week. An icon on the screen constantly updates the current level of radiation, from green (low exposure) to yellow (moderate) to red (elevated). Friedlander says that user feedback has indicated that this is an "addictive" feature, with people checking their level of radiation exposure before each call.

The problem with this seemingly sophisticated system is that the designation of radiation levels is completely arbitrary. Friedlander says the company consulted with researchers, but since there's no clear evidence about how much radiation is harmful, Tawkon just divided the spectrum of radiation into three equal parts. Users can adjust the radiation threshold levels to send warning signals at whatever level they choose — after all, their guess is as good as Tawkon's.

Tens of thousands of people are using the Tawkon's $9.99 BlackBerry app, Friedlander says, and the beta version of its free, ad-supported Android app launched at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference last week. The company is looking for more investors, in hopes of scaling up its product as quickly as possible. However, Apple has barred Tawkon from its app store, initially telling the company that the app "would create confusion with users."

Meanwhile, the BlackBerry version is proving surprisingly popular in the developing world, Friedlander says, even though he had assumed countries like China and India would have "other issues to deal with before mobile phone radiation."

He's betting that science will eventually justify the need for his product. From his reading of the available research, he says, "I think there's a smoking gun there already."

 
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