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article imageApple investors call for company to help child device 'addiction'

By James Walker     Jan 8, 2018 in Technology
Two major Apple investors have publicly pressured the company to investigate the impact of its devices on the health of children. Jana Partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System collectively control $2 billion of Apple shares.
In an open letter published late last week, the investors said Apple has a responsibility to ensure its customers use their devices "in an optimal manner." They challenged the company to "showcase the innovative spirit that made you the most valuable public company in the world" by committing to a pioneering fight against child smartphone addiction.
The shareholders pointed to research that suggests typical American teenagers use their smartphone for over 4.5 hours per day. 67% of 2,300 teachers recently surveyed by the Center on Media and Child Health said growing numbers of students are being distracted by digital tech in the classroom. 90% said the number of children suffering from emotional challenges has grown in the past 3 to 5 years.
The investors acknowledged that firm evidence is difficult to obtain. However, there appears to be a correlation between the proliferation of digital tech and reduced overall happiness amongst teenagers. They want Apple to commit to a comprehensive investigation of the impact its devices are having.
"It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally," the investors wrote.
"It is also no secret that social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged."
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The letter stresses that neither of the two investors is seeking an "all or nothing" approach. Instead, they want Apple to do more to help parents and their children set limits that make sense for them. The companies said Apple should carry some responsibility for ensuring children avoid "problematic" usage patterns that could hinder their development.
One way this could be achieved is through more sophisticated parental controls. Apple's current settings were criticised for effectively offering the undesirable "all or nothing" approach, with options limited to enabling and disabling certain features. The investors also panned existing parental assistance apps, noting they offer so many controls that parents can feel overwhelmed.
It's unusual for investors to pressure a major company to increase its social responsibility. So far, Apple hasn't responded to the call. If it agrees to meet the investors' request, it could lead an innovative industry effort to investigate how devices are affecting the health of children.
With proper research and a scientific basis, new parental controls could be developed that more effectively protect teenagers from device addiction. The investors said there is "no good reason" for Apple to deny itself the opportunity to lead the discussion.
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