The Next Big Thing

China’s Qihoo 360 launches Wi-fi router to ‘protect’ pregnant women from radiation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 June, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 June, 2015, 11:02am

Chinese tech firm Qihoo 360 launched an upgraded version of its P1 Wi-fi router late last week, which it claims can protect pregnant women against radiation from electromagnetic signals.

The company, famous for its cyber-security products, released the improved version of the six-month-old device just one day after rival Xiaomi, China’s top smartphone maker, started selling its latest Wi-fi router, which it claims can store a "lifetime" of photos.

“We will wait and see who has a more profound understanding of Wi-fi routers, me or our competitors,” said Zhou Hongyi, president and CEO of Qihoo. 

At a launch event this month, he explained that the router can protect pregnant women from the potentially harmful signals as it reduces them by up to 70 per cent.

“We are targeting people who are afraid of radiation,” he said, which invited criticism from Xiaomi over the use of such scare targets.

“We firmly oppose, and feel ashamed of, those who create rumours and arouse instability for business purposes,” Xiaomi said on its official Weibo account.

The debate over just how dangerous small electromagnetic signals are has been going on for years.

Doctors in the United States launched an unofficial campaign last year to try and limit women’s exposure to phones, computers, microwave ovens and wireless equipment, claiming the radiation they emit poses a threat to developing babies.

Yet these appliances send out non-ionising radiation. This is less dangerous than the other, ionising kind emitted by X-rays and gamma rays, which can tear molecules apart and damage the body’s DNA.

China has the highest number of home Wi-fi networks in the world, followed by the US and Japan, according to Strategy Analytics, a Boston-based market research firm. 

But as awareness of their negative side effects grows, resistance to their use in China has been growing.

A story that recently went viral on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo told how one father-to-be asked every person in his tenement building to turn off their routers so as not to harm his unborn child. 

To clarify the health threat, the World Health Organisation started building a database on the subject in 1996 called The International Electromagnetic Fields Project. 

“Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields,” it stated.

Qihoo cited this in an interview with the South China Morning Post last week, but said the WHO failed to spell out whether pregnant women or children were at risk.

Nonetheless, the WHO has gone on record as saying that “exposure to fields at typical environmental levels” does not raise the risk of spontaneous abortions, malformations, low birth weight, or congenital disease.

The amount of radiation Wi-fi routers emit is so small they cannot be seen as a credible threat to the safety of people or foetuses, said Professor William Cheung Sing-wai from the department of electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Hong Kong.

In fact, the typical level sent out by a Wi-fi router is just 3-4 per cent of what the industry considers to be hazardous, he told the Post.

If in doubt, consider taking a few steps back. 

Cheung said the level of radiation drops by 96 per cent if people put five metres’ distance between themselves and the device, which would be more impactful than Qihoo’s claimed reduction. 

Qihoo responded to Xiaomi’s comment about scaremongering by telling the Post this was never its intention. It also conceded that the science surrounding the subject remains something of a grey area.

“We aren’t scientists. We haven’t done many experiments to prove how much damage the radiation from Wi-fi can cause,” Qihoo said. “We leave the right of choice to our customers.”

Qihoo revealed last Thursday that a Chinese consortium had offered to buy it for US$77 per American depositary share. The company said it would form a special committee to consider the proposal to delist.