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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Concern in Europe on Cellphone Ads for Children

Slashdot It! The MO1 beginner mobile phone is not as cuddly as a teddy bear, but manufacturers of the curvy crimson-and-blue handset for 6-year-olds promise a similarly warm and fuzzy relationship. They boast about socialization, emotional health and the comforts of “peace of mind.” And yet such shiny child-size phones are stirring some parental and government unease, particularly at a time when the mobile telephone industry is reaching deeper into saturated markets to tap customers with chubby hands capable of cradling both dolls and phones. Already, the category of young customers — tweens and teens — is driving subscriber growth in the United States, according to IDC, a technology research firm in Massachusetts, which projects that 31 million new young users will join the market from 2005 to 2010. The year 2006 was the turning point when the industry started focusing not just on teenagers and adults but also on tweens — children between middle childhood and adolescence, about 8 to 12 years old — and even children as young as 5. Bright new “kiddie” telephones began appearing on the market that can speed-dial grandma and grandpa with a click of a button. The MO1 — developed by Imaginarium, a toy company, and Telefónica in Spain — prompted some parent groups in Europe to demand a government ban on marketing to children. Here in France, the health minister recently issued a warning against excessive mobile phone use by young children. The objections are driven in part by a lack of knowledge over the long-term health effects of mobile phone use. But they also appear to reflect an instinctive worry about whether parents should be giving young children cellphones at all. Jóvenes Verdes, an environmental advocacy group for young people in Spain, argues that “the mobile telephone industry is acting like the tobacco industry by designing products that addict the very young.” While there is no specific evidence that mobile telephones pose a health threat to young users, researchers worry that there is still only scanty scientific information about the long-term impact of radio frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile telephones on the developing brains and tissues of children. In France the health minister, Roselyne Bachelot, has taken such concerns public, issuing an alert in January urging parents to limit use, reducing children’s telephone calls to no more than six minutes. Her announcement followed a similar warning by the Health and Radio Frequencies Foundation, a government-backed research group created two years ago to study the impact of radio frequency fields on humans. “I believe in the principle of precaution,” Ms. Bachelot said in an interview. “If there is a risk, then children with developing nervous systems would be affected. I’ve alerted parents about the use of mobile telephones because it’s absurd for young children to have them.” The French foundation is moving now to organize a broad international research project to study the potential risks for children. More studies are developing in other countries. The Mobile Telecommunication and Health Research Program in Britain, which is financed by the state and local telecommunications industry, is in the early stage of organizing a children’s study. Another project, called Cefalo, is under way in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland to explore whether mobile telephone use increases the risk of brain tumors for children. In January, the National Research Council in the United States also delivered a report — commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration — that reviewed existing scientific studies around the world and urged further research on the impact of mobile phone use on children and pregnant women. “This clearly is a population that is going to grow up with a great deal of larger exposure than anybody else because the kids use the phones all the time,” said Frank Barnes, a professor of engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder who led the study. “And you’ve got growing bodies and brains, so if there is going to be an impact, that’s likely to be a more sensitive population than others.” Every year, the average age of novice mobile phone users is dropping, hitting 10 years old last year, according to Scott Ellison, an IDC analyst who forecasts that the 9-and-under market will increase to nine million users in the United States and $1.6 billion in revenue by 2010. Telephone use is also getting more precocious in Europe, according to a Eurobarometer survey of almost 1,000 children in 29 countries, most of whom had telephones after age 9. Via NYT Get Daily Updates via Email Protect your computer with Windows Onecare Get paid $7.50 for reviewing my post Ad Space

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