Apple investors say phone addiction in young people must be tackled

8 Jan 2018

Smartphone use could be affecting the mental and physical wellbeing of young people. Image: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Two Apple investors want the company to address worries over smartphone addiction in young children.

While smartphones provide a wealth of knowledge and resources in one pocket-sized device, there are growing concerns around technology addiction, particularly among young people.

On that note, two major Apple shareholders have raised their concerns in a letter dated 6 January, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Smartphones and mental health

Jana Partners, an activist shareholder and a major US public pension plan provider, and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) have asked Apple to study how excessive phone use can affect mental health.

The two entities together control approximately $2bn worth of shares in Apple, and the emphasis on a social issue such as tech addiction marks a change for Jana, as it is known for financial lobbying rather than calling for the examination of societal patterns.

The holdings of Jana and CalSTRS represent less than 1pc of Apple’s total shares, with the latter currently holding a market capitalisation of $809bn, according to the Financial Times.

The firms are concerned that if Apple fails to tackle the problem of smartphone addiction, the company’s reputation and stock could take a major knock in the future.

Apple asked to lead the charge

In the letter, the investors recognised Apple’s “unique role in the history of innovation”, but said that the company must offer parents and guardians “more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner”.

In what is becoming a larger trend within the tech world, the investors said that Apple could set and example regarding the “obligations of technology companies to their youngest customers”.

The letter mentioned a study undertaken by the Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta, which found that 67pc of more than 2,300 teachers believe students were growing more negatively distracted by digital technologies in the classroom.

90pc of respondents also found that emotional challenges were on the rise since personal technologies entered the classroom, and 86pc of teachers observed an increase in social challenges among their students due to technological advancements.

The letter placed a heavy emphasis on the negative ramifications on young people’s mental and physical wellbeing due to technology, with studies showing correlations between social media use and depression, high blood pressure and other conditions.

Apple and the next generation

CalSTRS and Jana said that Apple’s current set of parental controls is too binary, with options limited “largely to shutting down or allowing full access to various tools and functions”.

They have asked for new tools and options, the establishment of an expert committee, education for parents, and annual progress reports on the issue.

The letter concluded by noting the particular power Apple possesses: “As one of the most innovative companies in the history of technology, Apple can play a defining role in signalling 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.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects