E-Labeling actually took off but did it matter?

Back in 2014 I told you about the “E-Label” act. You might remember that cell phones were once littered with all sorts of icons that no one understood. In fact, I even did an article about that, way back when. Those icons are gone now because the “E-Label” act was put into place. So let’s take a step back and talk about whether it was worth it.

All those icons

All those icons on the back of consumer electronics were once there for a reason. The law said that every device needed to show that it was approved by the FCC, it needed to show if it contained harmful materials, and so on. If the device was going to be used outside the US it needed even more icons to show that the European Community had tested it separately.

I think the issue was, though, that no one really understood what the icons meant and why they were important. Some of it was just common sense at this point, like of course the FCC is going to approve a cell phone. No major carrier is going to sell a phone that isn’t FCC approved. Also I think we all know at this point that you shouldn’t just toss a phone in the dumpster. You’re supposed to responsibly recycle all electronics instead of having them leach harmful chemicals into the ground.

So, the E-LABEL act.

It seems like politicians love to give things fancy names. So this act is actually called “The Enhance Labeling, Accessing, and Branding of Electronic Licenses Act of 2014.” Well let me tell you I’m impressed by their ability to create an acronym that spells out E-Label. Seriously, that’s worth my money.

On the face of it the E-LABEL act was supposed to make it easier for manufacturers to create different devices and save money. The theory, as it went, was that devices were getting so small that it was getting impossible to actually label them according to the laws. Also by not labeling them, manufacturers could save tons of money.

Of course that’s nonsense. Cell phone makers just thought their phones looked better without all that jibber jabber on the back. I sincerely doubt any of them saved much money because it doesn’t cost any more to have a whole bunch of icons instead of just one. If your phone is going to say “Powered by Google” on the back, then there isn’t going to be any money saved by taking away all the other stuff.

The E-LABEL act lets manufacturers include those icons in the electronic owner’s manual or in the firmware of the device. Manufacturers simply needs to document what they are doing. I’m sure this was a massive win for… uh…

But hey, politics.

Are we better off now, 4 years later?

The E-LABEL Act became law in 2014. We still don’t have transparent phones or earbuds the size of aspirins. (Although they’re getting close with that.) So I would say this was probably not useful legislation. Looking at the back of my phone today, I’m not significantly more impressed by it because it has a lack of iconography on it. So be it though, because it’s a law now.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.