iPhone: Apple shareholders urge company to take action over children's smartphone addiction

There could be 'unintentional side effects' if children continue to be so attached to their phones

Andrew Griffin
Monday 08 January 2018 10:13 GMT
A girl reacts as she tries an iPhone X at the Apple Omotesando store on November 3, 2017 in Tokyo
A girl reacts as she tries an iPhone X at the Apple Omotesando store on November 3, 2017 in Tokyo

Apple has been told to take urgent action to curb children's smartphone addiction, amid fears that technology could be damaging the young generation.

The warning from two shareholders comes amid increasing concerns about how gadgets and social media could affect the young children who use them, many of whom are attached to their phones for many hours a day.

Famous technologists including Steve Jobs have been reported to have been concerned about the effects of technology on their own children, limiting the amount their kids could use the internet and phones and tablets.

Now the activist investors have warned that the late founder's company needs to lead the way in giving parents and their kids more powerful ways of keeping phone use in check.

New York-based Jana Partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or CalSTRS, said Monday in open letter to Apple that the company must offer more choices and tools to help children fight addiction to its devices.

"There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility," the letter said. "Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do."

The two investors collectively control $2 billion worth of Apple shares.

Among their proposals to Apple: establish an expert committee including child development specialists; offer Apple's vast information to researchers; and enhance mobile device software so that parents have more options to protect their children's health.

The letter cited various studies and surveys on how the heavy usage of smartphones and social media negatively affects children's mental and physical health. Examples include distractions by digital technologies in the classroom, a decreased ability of students to focus on educational tasks, and higher risks of suicide and depression.

The investors' call reflects growing concerns around the world about what the long-term impact will be of using mobile devices and social media, especially for those who start to use smartphones at an early age.

While tech companies have not acknowledged openly that their gadgets may be addictive, some Silicon Valley insiders have begun to speak to media about how gadgets, mobile applications and social media sites are designed to be addictive and to keep users' attention as long as possible.

Additional reporting by agencies

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