Apple pushed by shareholders to investigate iPhone’s impact on kids
In an open letter, two institutional Apple shareholders are asking Apple to better study how its smartphones impact kids. Children and teens may be using these devices too much, and parents may not know how to deal with that.
“As shareholders, we recognize your unique role in the history of innovation and the fact that Apple is one of the most valuable brand names in the world,” Barry Rosenstein, a managing partner with the hedge fund Jana Partners, and Anne Sheehan, the director of corporate governance at the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, write in their letter to the Apple Board of Directors. The two organizations jointly control $2 billion of Apple’s $898 billion market cap. “We have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner. By doing so, we believe Apple would once again be playing a pioneering role, this time by setting an example about the obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers.”
The letter authors point out a host of research that supports the idea that early use and overuse of smartphones and social media can be detrimental to the health and happiness of a developing brain.
According to a study by the Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta, for example, teachers report that children are less able to focus on educational tasks, and are more likely to exhibit emotional or social challenges. Professor Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychologist and author of the book iGen, also found that teens who spend five hours a day or more on a mobile device are at higher risk of committing suicide than peers who spend less than one hour a day on mobile devices. They’re also more likely to get less than seven hours of sleep, a factor linked to long-term health issues such as weight gain and high blood pressure.
These days, the average American teenager receives their first smartphone at age 10and typically spends more than 4.5 hours a day on it. “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 duo write.
Apple does offer some degree of parental controls on iOS devices. Parents can restrict what features their child has access to, including things like Safari, the camera, Siri, and the iTunes Store. Parents can also restrict the downloading or installation of apps or the downloading of apps beyond a certain maturity rating. You can also customize privacy settings, so things such as Location Services or Advertising are switched off when a child uses that device. While these controls give parents a granular ability to customize their child’s iPhone or iPad experience, it doesn’t, however, limit how much time they spend on the device.
They hope that Apple can develop more nuanced parental device controls beyond the “binary, all or nothing approach” available to parents right now. To accomplish this, Rosenstein and Sheehan outline five things Apple should do: Form a committee of experts to study the issue, partner with these and other experts on research, develop new tools and options based on this research, educate parents about these options, and follow-up with standardized reporting to ensure these measures are effective.
The letter’s asks are reasonable, and its reasoning logical. Hopefully, if Apple isn’t already working on measures to help teens moderate their smart device usage, it will consider this research and these organizations’ requests.
Update Jan. 9, 12:56pm: Apple responded to the open letter late Monday, saying that it does plan to enhance its parental controls in the future. “We are constantly looking for ways to make our experiences better. We have new features and enhancements planned for the future, to add functionality and make these tools even more robust,” Apple said in a statement. “We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them. We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.”