Wednesday, 05 May 2021 21:01

AirTag sales temporarily suspended from retailer Officeworks in Australia Featured

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In what appears to be an overabundance of caution, Australian office supplies and technology retailer Officeworks has temporarily pulled Apple's AirTags from sale.

When I first heard about AirTags and read that they had a user-replaceable CR 2032 battery inside, I wondered how child-safe the battery compartment and removal process would be.

An Apple spokesperson said: "AirTag is designed to meet international child safety standards, including those in Australia, by requiring a two step push-and-turn mechanism to access the user-replaceable battery.

"We are following the regulations closely and are working to ensure that our products will meet or exceed new standards, including those for package labelling, well ahead of the timeline required.”

In researching for this article, I also found the AirTag manual online from Apple, which says:

"AirTag contains a coin cell battery. The battery may need to be replaced during the life of the product. Replace only with the same type (CR2032) and rating of battery, observing the correct polarity.

"Important safety information

"To replace the battery:
1. Push the battery compartment door,then turn counter-clockwise with two thumbs and release when rotation stops.
2. Remove the door.
3. Remove the battery.
4. Insert a CR2032 battery into the device with the positive side (+) facing up.
5. Place the battery compartment door on the device, and rotate clockwise
while gently pushing, until it drops into place.
6. Push door into device until it stops, then rotate clockwise with two thumbs
until rotation stops.

The manual also states: "There is a risk of fire or electric shock, if the battery is replaced by an incorrect type.

"Important: Dispose of used battery according to your local environmental laws and guidelines. For more information please visit www.apple.com/batteries.

"Keep batteries away from children. Do not ingest battery, if ingested or placed inside body seek medical attention immediately. Ingesting can cause severe chemical burns in just two hours and result in serious injury or death. If the battery compartment does not close securely, stop using the device and keep away from children."

So, when Gizmodo reported that Officeworks had removed AirTags from sale due to safety concerns which apparently revolve around the battery, I was surprised.

The article quotes a Reddit thread where an Officeworks customer in South Australia was unable to buy AirTags, with Gizmodo's article quoting Officeworks stating it was waiting for ACCC advice before bringing the AirTags back on sale, although AirTags remain on sale at Apple, and at a range of other retailers in Australia just as JB Hi-Fi, the Good Guys, Bing Lee, Harvey Norman and elsewhere.

Upon receiving AirTags for review from Apple, I verified that you do indeed have to press down on the back of the Airtag's battery compartment and then turn that metal back before the compartment will open, which is similar to how a child-safe medicine bottle works.

The only other Apple device in recent memory to use a CR-2032 battery is the earlier aluminium Apple TV remote, which had a cover you had to unscrew using a coin in the slot.

It's also interesting to note that Section 4.8.3 of the International Standard sets forth two means to avoid access to the battery compartment by children: (1) “a tool, such as a screwdriver or coin, is required to open the battery compartment, in which case a minimum torque of 0.5 Nm and a minimum angle of 90 degrees of rotation shall be required to open the compartment”; or (2) "the battery compartment door / cover requires the application of a minimum of two independent and simultaneous movements to open by hand.”

It's clear that Apple's AirTag meets the second requirement, as I have verified myself.

It's also important to note that Australia’s new Information Standard will require, by 21 June 2022, a warning symbol on product packaging and certain warning information in accompanying instructions for consumer goods incorporating coin cell batteries.

Naturally, AirTag currently includes warnings and warning symbols in the accompanying instruction manuals.

Apple intends to update the product packaging and warnings for AirTag sold in Australia to comply with Australia’s new Information Standard well in advance of the 21 June 2022 compliance deadline.

According to Mashable, "The ACCC has not issued any recall notices for Apple's AirTags, but it did indicate that it is "aware of reports raising concerns about the accessibility of button batteries in the Apple AirTag product."

"If a supplier finds that a product they supply is unsafe, the ACCC expects the supplier to conduct a voluntary recall to advise consumers of the risk, address the safety issue, or remove the product from the market," said an ACCC spokesperson.

Finally, while AirTags can be dropped into the bottom of a bag, or pocket, AirTags are designed to be used in conjunction with an AirTag holder, which are on sale from Belkin from A$19.95, and from Apple itself from $45.

Compatible AirTag holders are also on sale at eBay and elsewhere online from around $7 when purchased in bulk.

The holders add an additional level of security given the AirTag would need to be removed from the holder by a child before the battery compartment can be opened, which again, requires pressure to be applied to the battery compartment before it can be unscrewed.

If you have young children and are particularly worried, you could always apply stick tape to the back of the AirTag to further secure the compartment from being opened.

While it is obviously important to ensure that children do not swallow button batteries, given the serious danger such batteries represent to anyone, child or not, when swallowed (or placed in the nose or ear) as explained by the ACCC's Product Safety page, which the ACCC also wrote about in December 2020, it is yet to be seen what action the ACCC will take in regards to AirTags given they do comply with existing regulations.

It's also a clear reminder to parents that button batteries of any type must be kept away from children, with such batteries to be found in a range of devices.

Poison.org's article on the topic lists the following devices as potentially containing button batteries:

- remote controls
- garage door openers
- keyless entry fobs
- bathroom scales
- parking transponders
- toys
- cameras
- watches
- PDAs
- calculators
- digital thermometers
- hearing aids
- singing greeting cards
- talking books
- portable stereos
- handheld video games
- cell phones
- home medical equipment/meters
- flash and pen lights
- flashing shoes
- toothbrushes, bedwetting monitors
- keychains
- flashing or lighted jewelry or attire
- any household item that is powered

So, if you have AirTags or any of the devices listed above, parental caution is as always, advised.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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