Learn What All Those Hieroglyphs On Your Devices Mean

Every device, regardless of brand or purchase location, seems to have a set of cryptic symbols on them that we’ve just chosen to accept as part of our lives. While many have grown apathetic about the presence of these symbols, a few people really want to know what they mean, and whether the symbols themselves may help them make smarter purchasing decisions in the future. In this piece, not only will you learn about the hieroglyphs, but they will also help you understand the significance of private sector collaboration in product safety!

electronicsymbols-ul

While some companies may be satisfied with passing the minimum government safety standards (which lately have just become a tool that slows down competition), other developers and manufacturers feel a certain sense of pride in the safety of their products. For these companies, there’s a private sector safety regulator known as Underwriters Laboratories, which certifies and assesses the safety of a product.

If your product doesn’t pass their test, you can still market it, but not with a UL certification. As a consumer, purchasing a UL-certified product means that there were extra steps taken to ensure that the device passes highly-stringent safety protocols.

Despite the optional compliance of UL certification, some local regulations require businesses to reject devices that aren’t UL listed.

Beware, however, of counterfeit UL certification symbols! Compare them to what is provided by UL’s website.

electronicsymbols-ce

Before the EU’s CE certification existed, you had to adhere to each country’s standards before exporting a device there. CE stands for Conformité Européenne, or “European Conformity”. This standard was created so that one device can be sold in all 27 member states by adhering to one simplified code. Some would argue that this threatens market diversity, but the standards are not as stringent as the UL certification. They were created to ease the process of competing in Europe.

A proper CE certification will contain a number right after it, which is the identifier of the private sector firm that tested the product’s safety. You can read more about it in the European Commission’s Enterprise and Industry section here.

In addition to CE certification, devices that cannot be disposed of in regular waste bins need to contain a Waste Electric & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) symbol, which looks like this:

electronicsymbols-weee

electronicsymbols-ccc

Every product in China, with a few exceptions, must pass the China Compulsory Certificate test in order to be sold in the country. Yes, this includes products that have otherwise passed tests in other countries. If you live in China or have bought a product directly from a Chinese vendor (as opposed to buying a product imported from China for the US market), then you should see this symbol there. If you don’t, there’s no real guarantee of its safety. Also, be aware of counterfeit certifications. They’re quite rampant. The image I have shown above shows the exact format that the CCC mark must use in order for a product to truly be certified.

electronicsymbols-fcc

For devices that emit radio waves or communicate in any way (such as cell phones, Wi-Fi antennas, radios, television sets, bluetooth devices, etc.), the United States has a special set of regulations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission. The mark, shown above, certifies that your product is designed to communicate inside the United States. Devices without this mark (i.e. anything you bought from abroad) could behave unpredictably because of differences in the radio spectrum occupation of both regions. The FCC has changed the exact formatting of its symbol a number of times over the years. The above image shows the most current mark as of the date this article is published.

electronicsymbols-nfc

Since there are a couple of safety concerns regarding near-field communications (the ability to, for example, make contactless payments through your phone), the people behind the technology decided that it’s important to make users aware of the fact that NFC is turned on in their phones. If you see the above symbol on your phone’s notification bar and you don’t want to use NFC, it’s time to disable it!

I have now done my part and shown you all of the major symbols in commercial devices, but that doesn’t mean that I covered absolutely everything. If you feel there’s a symbol you’re confused about that doesn’t appear here (or even if you’re still confused about a symbol I covered), please leave a comment! There’s always going to be new symbols we’ve never even heard of but together we can uncover their secrets.

4 comments

    • I’m not following, here. Although… If I could guess where you feel that there was some partisanship in this article, it would be in some mentions of the private sector? To be fair, it might have mislead people to think that this article has a pro-PS stance, though I must add that the European Union is doing fine on its own setting standards for Conformité Européenne.

      Same with the FCC, regardless of some of its biggest critics. With spectrum management, government is an absolute necessity. Or at least I can’t imagine how an alternative would work, if that’s even possible.

      The facts are there: UL is a shining example of private sector standards testing; the EU’s CE certification is an excellent display of government-managed standards testing; and the FCC does what it can (although not always agreeably) to try to make sense of our hodge-podged spectrum.

      With regards to China’s CCC, there’s a ton of conflicting information about it, so it was wiser to just stick to a broad description of what it does.

  1. This is a pretty feeble effort for an article that claims to show us ALL the hieroglyphics. I never expected everything, but five? Really?

    • For standards testing, CCC, CE, FCC, and UL Listed are just about everything you’ll see on a device in most developed/developing nations. I noticed there’s a big one missing (CSA), which is for Canada & US’s standards testing stamp of approval for all consumer/industrial products (although this is more of a general stamp and mostly unrelated to electronic devices, since there are very few regulations that CSA covers).

      There are also a few others that are very specific to one country, like France’s “alert symbol” covered in the CE R&TTE directive, which tells you that a device might not function properly on all French wireless networks (which operate on both 2.4 and 2.454 GHz frequencies as opposed to a simple 2.4 GHz). And let’s not forget the TÜV Rheinland product safety stamp, which relates to German safety on products. Occasionally, TÜV Rheinland Corporation (TÜV Rheinland Aktiengesellschaft) serves as the EU’s version of UL, testing product safety beyond what CE covers.

      To be frank, the symbols mentioned above are not necessarily seen pervasively across all products, but your comment remains valid, which inspired me to write this reply so that other readers could be informed about these symbols, too!

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