Two of the largest investors in Apple are urging the iPhone maker to take action against smartphone addiction among children over growing concerns about the effects of technology and social media on the youth.
In an open letter to Apple on Monday, New York-based Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) said the firm must do more to help children fight addiction on 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,” said the investors, who collectively control $2bn of Apple stock.
“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.”
The group urged Apple to offer tools to help children avoid addiction and give parents more options to protect their children’s health through monitoring usage. Apple’s iOS already offers limited parental controls, including restrictions on apps, use of features such as location sharing and access to certain kinds of content.
But the investors said that Apple should allow parents to be able set the age of the user of the phone on setup, and implement limits on screen time, hours of the day the phone can be used and block social media services.
They also proposed that Apple should establish an expert committee including child development specialists, which should produce annual reports, and offer Apple’s vast information to researchers on the issue.
The investors cited several studies on the negative effects on children’s mental and physical health caused by heavy usage of smartphones and social media. These range from distractions in the classroom and issues around focus on educational tasks to higher risks of suicide and depression.
The open letter reflects growing concerns on the long-term impact of technology such as smartphones and social media on children. Technology firms are yet to publicly acknowledge the issues around children and their company’s creations, but even Silicon Valley heads have started to raise the alarm. Former Facebook president Sean Parker described the site as made to exploit human vulnerability, saying: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”
Another former Facebook executive, Chamath Palihapitiya, said he specifically opted out of social media because it was “eroding the core foundations of how people behave”.
“I can control my decision, which is that I don’t use that shit. I can control my kids’ decisions, which is that they’re not allowed to use that shit,” said Palihapitiya.
With many apps, sites and devices being designed to be as addictive as possible to grow user numbers and maintain eyeballs on screens, children are increasingly being either seen as collateral damage or specifically targeted as the next generation of users.
Apple did not comment.