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FOIA Documents Detail iPods Overheating, Catching Fire 314

Posted by kdawson
from the is-it-hot-in-here dept.
suraj.sun passes along a report from a Seattle TV station that has been investigating reports of Apple iPods overheating and bursting into flames. "An exclusive KIRO 7 Investigation reveals an alarming number of Apple brand iPod MP3 players have suddenly burst into flames and smoke, injuring people and damaging property. It's an investigation that Apple has apparently been trying to keep out of the public eye. It took more than 7 months for KIRO 7 Consumer Investigator Amy Clancy to get her hands on documents concerning Apple's iPods from the Consumer Product Safety Commission because Apple's lawyers filed exemption after exemption. In the end, the CPSC released more than 800 pages which reveal, for the very first time, a comprehensive look that shows, on a number of occasions, iPods have suddenly burst into flames, started to smoke, and even burned their owners. ... Apple refused to comment, and refused to answer all of the other questions [the reporter] has been asking of the company since November."
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FOIA Documents Detail iPods Overheating, Catching Fire

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:09AM (#28780055)

    Apple will block it, their zealots will ignore it, the masses won't here about it.

  • public perception (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hellfish006 (1000936) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:10AM (#28780065)
    Apple will still be adored by the public, the iPod is too ubiquitous with mp3 player at this point to be shunned. Its like Windows, it may be bad and seem to be hated by a lot of people but it will still be the most dominant in the market.
  • by capt.Hij (318203) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:12AM (#28780091) Homepage Journal
    Apple has not managed to hide the suicide [reuters.com] of one of their suppliers employees after he was on the receiving end of a good deal of intimidation. In today's media environment once the shine comes off of a star the media is more than happy to jump on the mud throwing bandwagon. If this gains any traction then there is a good chance that people will be more than happy to pile on.
  • Macbook tag? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gblackwo (1087063) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:13AM (#28780095) Homepage
    I would appreciate it if we didn't tag every apple story with macbook if it doesn't have to do with macbooks. One day, I or someone else may actually want to use the tagging system for its function of looking up stuff that has to do with that tag, and I will not be happy when I want to look at macbook related stories and see 90% of the articles are about ipods.
  • Re:ALARMING! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shag (3737) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:18AM (#28780121) Homepage

    So 1 in roughly every 11 million iPods has this sort of problem.

    Out of curiosity, are there other products that burst into flames spontaneously at rates lower than 1 in every 11 million? I'm just thinking that if I bought 11 million of anything - including fire extinguishers - I wouldn't be terribly surprised if one went *FOOM!* one day.

  • by wiredog (43288) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:19AM (#28780139) Journal

    High enough energy density and you go from energy store to high explosive.

  • Re:seattle? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sheph (955019) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:31AM (#28780233)
    That was my first thought too, but it is concerning that the CPSC thinks there is an acceptable number of these instances (numbering in the 100s). As if it's ok that hundereds of people were burned by this thing, and Apple acts like there's no problem. Apple made a pretty decent product unitl fairly recently. Now they are scrambling to build their products out of the cheapest products available just like the PC clone manufactures (like Foxconn). Their die hard fans may continue to purchase their products even when the quality isn't there, but I think most rational people are going to look at this and weigh their options.

    The iPod was a great idea, and they deserve the kudos for it. However, I can tell you as a father I would not give one of these to my kids, or own one myself even if the probability of this happening is 1/1000000.

  • by siloko (1133863) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:32AM (#28780241)
    . . . whilst fanboys scratch their heads trying to find an upside to burnt nostrils . . .
  • by thisnamestoolong (1584383) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:34AM (#28780253)
    ...I still get sick and tired of all of these absurd "special reports" on the news about the "unseen dangers" in the world that are orders of magnitude less likely to cause you serious harm than being struck by lightning. Certainly, Apple should be held responsible, particularly for their gross mishandling of the situation (trying to sweep it under the rug), but can we grow up a little? It does not seem that there has been any serious damage or injury as a result of this. This culture of fear that the news has been cultivating is beyond nauseating and is destroying our society piece by piece. Because of all the news coverage into child abductions, for instance, we teach our children that strangers are dangerous and keep them close to our chests at all times, despite the fact that the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are literally 1 in a million! The same thing has happened with the War on Terror (TM), one terrorist attack and all of a sudden its necessary to start stripping away human rights and make air travel more or less unusable. We feel that airport security is necessary, despite the fact that it logically makes no sense. We see all the exposes on the dangers of drug use, yet fail to recognize that in reality aspirin is more dangerous. We humans are terrible at assessing risk, which leads to crap like this happening. I could fill an encyclopedia with examples of this, but I think the point I am trying to make is fairly clear, that this is juvenile behavior.
  • by AntEater (16627) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:36AM (#28780271) Homepage

    "more than 800 pages of information, including 15 burn and fire-related incidents blamed by iPod owners"

    Lets see, according to wikipedia [wikipedia.org], over 173 million ipods have been sold as of last September. Out of these, there are only 15 documented fire related incidents? Not to downplay the impact this had on the individuals but I can hardly see where this constitutes a risk to the public. At that rate, there are probably more ipod related choking incidents. The article keeps referring to the "800 pages" rather than the actual number of incidents which looks like they're trying to create the appearance that this is a big problem. If anyone feels that this is a serious danger then they need to be wearing a motorcycle hemet when walking around the house and and a life preserver at breakfast in case they might drown in their cereal bowl. Living involves some risks but I think this one I'll safely ignore.

  • by kannibal_klown (531544) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:37AM (#28780285)

    Read the article. The long report they talk about says that 15 were reported. That's 15 out of 175,000,000 (175 million).

    Cars, computers, flippin' aircraft... I'd imagine a lot of products have catastrophic failures (such as sparks or fires) 1 in 11.6 million times. How often does it make the news (particularly nationally) when some guy's TV shorts out and ignites, or a car battery explodes.

    And to clarifiy my position, I didn't jump down Sony's or Dell's or Apple's throat when their laptop batteries were causing major problems either. Though it's obviously good to know, as so many were affected, the most that can be said is that it was the battery manufacturers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:40AM (#28780299)

    Apple has quashed reporting of 100% of them.

  • by noundi (1044080) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @08:47AM (#28780349)
    Except your example is indirectly related to Apple. It's their supplier and thus it's the suppliers responsibility. This however is fully their shit. The fact that your iPod may catch fire and burn down your house is not something to keep quiet about, no matter to what extent the problem goes. How many times have you tossed your portable mediaplayer on the bed/sofa or on the sill close to the curtains, or even on the rug. In contrast to your example this is truly a serious problem, which is why it took half an eternity for this to be exposed and a week or so for the suicide to leak, with the official story. It could easilly been swept under the rug as just social pressure, wiping the 16 prototype iPods from the story. But Apple are fully aware of that in this case they act as customers, leaving them with little to no responsibility for the suicide. What's unfortunate though is that the parent is absolutely right. This will be downsized by the Apple zealots, whom I find, while very similar, even more pathetic than followers of scientology. On the plus side Apple zealots tend to own more Apple equipment, thus they should hold a much higher risk of having their home burnt down. Perhaps that will teach them how sick it is to love a business that don't employ you.
  • by vulpinemac (570108) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:02AM (#28780479)

    The fact that your iPod may catch fire and burn down your house is not something to keep quiet about, no matter to what extent the problem goes.

    Even when the odds are 1 in 11 million + units? You have a greater chance of winning a lottery than you do of getting burned by your iPod. For that matter, at least one of those cases was due to the user sitting down with the thing in their pants pocket. I can't tell you how many Nintendo Gameboys I had to repair with broken screens because the kids sat on them or stuffed them in their front pants pocket. You try sitting down with something about the size of your hand in your pocket; it's going to flex, and flexing is likely to bend the battery or some other component.

    I mean, really! Out of over 175 Million units sold, only 15 had an overheating problem? That's more reliable than even the Model T!

  • Re:So whats new ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:05AM (#28780495) Homepage Journal

    Just curious... what catastrophic failure rate is the margin between a cover-up being ethical and a cover-up being unethical?

  • Repeat after me (Score:4, Insightful)

    by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:11AM (#28780553) Homepage

    R E M O V A B L E

    B A T T E R I E S

    I think it is plain and obvious to see that the reason Apple doesn't want removable batteries is to prevent a 3rd part market in battery sales but also to make products without removable batteries more "disposable." People can argue to the contrary, but the conclusion needs to fit with typical consumer behavior. Such behavior includes a high failure and low willingness to follow through with warranty claims and procedures among others such as the tendency to throw away instead of recycling. (It is useless to point out that some people WILL do those things. The majority of people will not.)

  • by LKM (227954) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:11AM (#28780557) Homepage

    Batteries are small containers which contain ever larger amounts of energy. They are bombs. Sometimes, they catch fire. This happens with all electronic devices. The question is whether iPods are worse than other devices; so far, the data isn't in, but since it's Apple, a high-profile company which sells a ton of devices, people will be quick to blame them for everything.

    So we can either have a discussion about the data, or we can yell at each other. Your post started out as if you wanted to go with the first idea. Too bad you ended up with calling Apple's customers "more pathetic than followers of scientology" and implying that it would be good if they died in a fire.

    Loving a business that doesn't employ you (or, in fact, any kind of business) is just as sick as hating the customers of a specific business.

  • Re:Nothing New (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:12AM (#28780563) Homepage Journal

    Simple question: How does this relate to the discussion at hand about iPods?

    I suppose "Simple" is one way to describe your question.

    The discussion at hand about iPods is not really about them catching fire. It's really about the fact that Apple has been trying to hide the fact from the public. Apple also tried to hide B&W G3 data corruption from the public by removing the TIL when they folded it into the KB. In general, Apple attempts to hide its failures from the public, to the detriment of the customer. Their cachet depends on people believing that they are somehow different from other manufacturers, but in reality they are depressingly similar.

    It should not take a FOIA request to find out what the catch-fire-and-burn rate is on a piece of electronics you're considering purchasing. And it should not require that you surf the antique web to find out why your computer is corrupting files. Increasing used value increases new value, so preventing people from finding out about problems with your hardware potentially increases profits. It's certainly one thing working for Apple...

    Comments like yours make me feel like I'm in school. Nobody should have had to write a fucking essay to explain this to you.

  • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:23AM (#28780665)

    Buying accessories to prevent bodily harm from a freaking cellphone or mp3 player seems pretty excessive to me. I'd sooner reconsider my purchase of such a device than go to these lengths...

  • by Hijacked Public (999535) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:38AM (#28780775)

    I don't know how large a company KIRO 7 is, but using the phrase "alarming number of" instead of "15", to sensationalize a story, is certainly unethical.

    This doesn't give Apple a pass but we have no way of knowing what they've done internally to address the problem. Could be nothing. Regardless, I don't blame them for not wanting the story widely reported in the media.

  • by Hatta (162192) * on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:40AM (#28780817) Journal

    Ethical companies get bought out by unethical companies.

  • by vulpinemac (570108) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:46AM (#28780897)

    No, drinkypoo, it's not that Apple hid the story, but rather that Apple chose not to talk about it because it wasn't a story. I can't name one company in the world that wants to acknowledge a problem; not Apple, not Ford and not anyone else. They usually don't discuss such matters unless and until they become a publicly visible problem, and 15 units out of 175 MILLION units do not make a publicly visible problem unless somebody goes out of their way to make it one, which seems to be a big purview of anti-Apple zealots.

  • Re:seattle? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kagura (843695) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @09:53AM (#28780987)

    It may be a small percentage, but would you really want your child to be the lucky winner?

    I hope you never leave your driveway. :(

  • by snspdaarf (1314399) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @10:02AM (#28781117)
    Well, I think that ONE ipod that bursts into flames is an alarming number, if that one is in my pants pocket right next to my man-gear. But, I agree that the need of the media to cause fear and panic leads to stupidly sensationalist language in their stories. Of course, more people will watch a story about someone with third-degree burns on their crotch (in the hope that they will show it) than will watch a discussion of leading economists about the difficulties of tracking TARP funds, so it is partly our fault.
  • by Brad Mace (624801) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @10:12AM (#28781227) Homepage

    Currently the newest story is "Visualizing False Positives In Broad Screening", regarding how to convey the rarity of events to people not familiar with statistics. While companies shouldn't be fighting to hard to keep these sorts of thing secret, I think we're probably forcing them to as a society since the public is largely unable to put these kinds of rare events in perspective. The 24-hour news channels will jump all over this sort of thing and blow it out of proportion to fill airtime, and the public ends up with the mindset that they're playing Russian roulette every time they use an ipod.

    Ultimately, companies are probably going to keep suppressing this sort of info until everyone learns to look at this sort of information like adults.

  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @10:22AM (#28781387) Homepage Journal

    Short of the consumer taking something apart and/or modifying it, safe design takes into account user mistakes, routine mishandling and forseeable events like the ones you mention. You design things to be fail-safe. Fail safe doesn't mean it never fails, it means it fails in a safe manner. You design things so that they either can't be used incorrectly (in the casual sense) or if they ARE, they just don't work.

  • by interkin3tic (1469267) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @10:29AM (#28781479)

    You said fisher price came up with a way of solving it fairly rapidly. Would FP's response have been different if the product carried the inherent risk and they couldn't fix it, or if the product were their bread and butter?

    Maybe apple found that there was no way to ensure that no ipod ever would do this. Telling everyone who buys an ipod that it could explode at random seems like the type of thing that might make people buy a Zune instead. Then again, they could just stuff it in the literature somewhere and trust it would be ignored, maybe right under whatever section talks about not using their products to start a nuclear war.

    Not that it would be any more ethical than not telling people at all.

  • Re:ALARMING! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Luthair (847766) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @10:30AM (#28781507)
    I doubt most incidents are reported.
  • by Dhalka226 (559740) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:00PM (#28782907)

    It would be nice if they didn't obstruct access to the information if somebody wants it.

    Apple has done nothing but make the situation worse. Instead of letting them just have the information and giggling as they tried to make 15 fires seem like a huge risk to our children!!! Apple decided to give them a half-page story about how they did everything in their power to stop a news agency from getting government consumer safety reports (as if they had any chance of that working in the first place) before they ever have to bother with presenting pesky facts and figures.

  • Re:ALARMING! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:02PM (#28782933)

    So 1 in roughly every 11 million iPods has this sort of problem.

    No -- 1 in roughly every 11 million iPods has reported this sort of problem.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @12:13PM (#28783069)

    Buying accessories to prevent bodily harm from a freaking cellphone or mp3 player seems pretty excessive to me. I'd sooner reconsider my purchase of such a device than go to these lengths...

    So what you are saying then is that you'd rather go without a cell phone at all - since pretty much any modern cell phone uses the same battery tech.

    Really? You'd really be without any cell phone ever, even for emergencies? That seems even less rational.

  • by v1 (525388) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @02:05PM (#28784873) Homepage Journal

    Keeping in mind that Apple doesn't make the batteries, they have to have some degree of trust in their suppliers. I doubt anyone can picture Apple stupid enough to bait PR nightmares and lawsuits when their image is very important to their business model. Apple's typical reaction is the industry best-case product-problem-coverup-job - do everything reasonable to stick a lollypop in the mouth of anyone that screams, and quietly correct the problem so it doesn't happen again. They're unlikely to admit fault, that would just fan the flames. (pun?)

    Batteries lately though do seem to be a serious problem all around for everyone. DSLAM phone boxes [lightreading.com] blowing [broadbandreports.com] up [metafilter.com] down the street, laptops and ipods [wsbtv.com] catching [dailymail.co.uk] fire [google.com], liio batteries puffing [arstechnica.com] up like balloons [cellphoneforums.net]. Inadequate testing if you ask me. New technology trying to get rushed into a highly competitive new market, skip the tests it's good enough, just ship it. Then stuff blows up catches fire, or generally misbehaves. But right now rechargeable batteries are making a shambles out of Moore's Law [wikipedia.org].

    This isn't really news any more than the 5 o-clock rush hour. Blame Apple, blame Sony, whatever, it's going to happen. It's not anywhere outside the bell curve yet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:24AM (#28791495)

    Do you think you're refuting the cover-up claims by linking to a document published by Apple?

    If you do think that, you're wrong. The cover-up being reported on here is attempts by Apple lawyers to prevent public documents being obtained under freedom of information laws.

    It shouldn't take seven months for someone to obtain access to documents funded by the public purse.

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