Apple Skirts Tech Addiction Issue in Response to Worried Investors

Apple on Monday responded to an open letter from investors who called for the company to address the negative impact of the iPhone on children and teens. Though the company listed a number of controls provided to help parents screen content, it offered little to address the investors’ chief concern: the amount of time teens and younger children spend on phones.

Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which together have invested about US$2 billion in Apple, on Saturday published the letter, which urges Apple to give parents more choices and tools to help ensure that young consumers are using the company’s products “in an optimal manner.”

There is a growing body of evidence that frequent use of Apple’s products by young people could be having unintentional negative consequences, notes the letter, which is signed by Jana Managing Partner Barry Rosenstein and CalSTRS’ Director of Corporate Governance Anne Sheehan.

The average American teenager who uses a smartphone first obtains a phone at age 10 and spends more than 4.5 hours a day on it — excluding texting and talking, Rosenstein and Sheehan pointed out.

Seventy-eight percent of teens check their phones at least hourly, and 50 percent report feeling “addicted” to their phones, they added.

“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,” Rosenstein and Sheehan wrote.

 

Apple Responds

Apple touted its efforts to look after the interests of both kids and parents within its ecosystem in a statement released to the press on Monday.

The company’s operating system has built-in controls in its operating system that enable parents to control and restrict content, Apple said, including apps, movies, websites, songs and books.

Parents also can block or restrict cellular data usage, control passwords, and block kids from accessing or downloading anything online.

Apple keeps offensive content such as pornography out of its curated platforms, and it clearly labels apps, movies and songs to allow parents to judge age-appropriateness, the statement maintains.

Further, the company promised to add new, more robust features and functionality to its parent controls in the future.

Kudos for Investors

The Apple investors who called on the company to address the potential negative consequences of its mobile products won praise from James P. Steyer, CEO ofCommon Sense Media.

“We are very pleased to see that leading shareholders have spoken out about their concerns for the health and safety of kids on cell phones and online,” he said. “It is a hugely important development for shareholders to take public action like this on digital addiction and inappropriate cellphone behavior.”

Apple should take a more proactive stance in addressing the issue of addiction, tweeted Tony Fadell, coinventor of the iPod and iPhone.

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