Last week a 23-year-old Chinese woman was killed allegedly via an electric shock that came from her iPhone, which was plugged in and charging. Apple said it would help Chinese authorities investigate the incident. Ma Ailun was using an iPhone 4, and fresh information on the case suggests that her phone was most likely plugged into an unauthorized third-party charger, which may have been the source of the shock. Also this week, a Chinese man reportedly went into a coma after being shocked while plugging his iPhone 4 in.
According to the South China Morning Post, unauthorized chargers can be made with cheap components, and are simply not designed to meet rigorous safety standards. Apple complies with international safety standards for its own phone charger designs. The current theory is that an unauthorized charger, lacking the proper electrical and thermal protection, broke down (possibly through overheating) and sent mains voltage through the charger cable to the iPhone in the woman’s hands. In late 2012, a British man suffered a non-fatal electric shock when he bought a knockoff Apple iPhone charger that exploded, presumably under similar circumstances.
Apple has previously suffered its own charger failures when early editions of its tiny iPhone charger unit designed for the U.S. market could be physically broken in such a way they left the metal tines still plugged into the wall outlet, potentially enabling electric shocks. The company recalled the units and redesigned them to prevent this type of accident.