Apple investigates iPhone electrocution death in China

Pedestrians outside an Apple store in Shanghai.
Pedestrians outside an Apple store in Shanghai.
Image: Lai Xinlin - Imaginechina
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Apple is investigating the death of a woman in China who was allegedly electrocuted by her iPhone, in the latest public relations setback for Apple in its second-largest market.

Ma Ailun, 23, was found dead holding her plugged-in iPhone 4, with burns on her hand and foot,  according to media accounts that cited a microblog post from her sister on Sina Weibo and interviews with her husband and other relatives. The woman’s father, Ma Guanghui, confirmed that the woman died of electrocution, as did local police, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Apple is “deeply saddened” by the woman’s death and “will fully investigate and co-operate with authorities in this matter,” a company spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post. Apple’s media relations office in Hong Kong did not respond immediately to calls or e-mail on Monday.

Earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook “deeply” apologized to Chinese consumers for what he called “a perception that Apple is arrogant,” after an expose in China’s state-run media of the company’s return and repair policy, which claimed it was less generous than in other countries. The expose was followed by a wave of criticism of Apple in China in other state media and online, which sparked wide-spread speculation that the Chinese government may have had an ulterior motive for creating a scandal.

Apple may turn out to be blameless in Thursday’s death, as well as a similar case last week when an iPhone 4 reportedly caught on fire under a Chinese man’s pillow, though he was left unharmed. But the fact that Apple is moving proactively to address another possible public relations disaster in China shows that the company has woken up to the dangers of pursuing its infamously closed-mouth communications tactics in a market that plays by different rules.