Whether dolls that monitor the children’s room video, overheating cell phone chargers or headphones that eavesdrop on the police radio. The Federal Network Agency must withdraw such prohibited electrical devices from circulation. Not always that easy.
Dhe concern for their child drives some parents to extreme measures. For example, a watch is bought that shows where the little ones are and that conversations can be listened to. Or a doll whose video eyes can be used to monitor the children’s room. But there is also something for suspicious landlords: smoke detectors with built-in video surveillance. All of these things can be easily ordered on the Internet. But they are banned in Germany. It is the job of the Federal Network Agency to take them out of circulation. And not just such products.
Cheap cell phone chargers that overheat or whose contacts are not adequately insulated. Radio alarm clocks, the signal of which interferes with the air traffic at the airport, or headphones with which the police radio can be monitored. 90 employees of the authority rummage through such products, take them out of circulation and check who put them into circulation. They do spot checks in retail stores, visit product fairs, flea markets, and visit small cell phone shops.
The Federal Network Agency withdrew 460,000 unsafe electrical devices from the market last year – a fraction of the total number of prohibited devices on the market. “Of course it’s a fight against windmills,” says Uwe Saalmann, who has been doing this job for many years. “Online trading in particular presents us with great challenges.”
“Even the possession of such devices is forbidden”
The numbers fluctuate every year and are not very meaningful. In 2016 there were more than twice as many devices as in the following year. Sometimes a container with thousands more prohibited imports was discovered, sometimes one less. And the effort is huge.
For every device withdrawn from the market, a check is made to see where it came from, who ordered it, who is the so-called distributor. “We look at the entire supply chain,” says Saalmann. Individual radio-controlled sockets are checked in the measuring laboratory, many of them start to burn. But the correspondence required for this alone takes weeks – and the cheap parts are produced and imported a million times over.
“Distributor” is the person who orders the goods – either for himself or for resale. “The possession of such products is prohibited,” says a spokesman for the Federal Network Agency. But the consequences are always different. “We proceed with a sense of proportion,” says Saalmann. Often it is already expensive enough for the buyer when the Federal Network Agency pulls in the cheap smartwatch.
The market watchdogs exercise a sense of proportion even with large retail chains when forbidden junk products are found on their shelves. “As a rule, there can be no question of willfulness,” says Saalmann. Often it is a matter of products that have been ordered once for special promotions and that are not looked closely at in the hectic pace. Nevertheless: “With many dealers we already know in advance that we will definitely find something,” he says. “We are already old friends.”