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Apple faces investor backlash over what the iPhone may be doing to kids
Source: Brian Fung




In this Dec. 17, 2017, photo, a baby girl plays with a mobile phone while riding in a New York subway. Two major Apple investors have urged the iPhone maker to take action to curb growing smartphone use among children, highlighting growing concern about the effects of gadgets and social media on youngsters.

Two major Apple shareholders are calling on the company to change how it approaches some of its youngest customers, alleging that the computing giant’s products risk causing long-term physical or mental harm to children.

The shareholders, Jana Partners and the California State Teachers Retirement System, together control $2 billion worth of Apple stock. On Saturday, the two groups wrote a letter to Apple’s board of directors arguing that the iPhone’s tremendous popularity and success make it Apple’s responsibility to ensure the devices are not abused.

Citing a number of recent studies that appeared to link cellphone overuse with feelings of addiction and other health issues, particularly among teens, the investors argued that Apple’s electronic devices lack sufficient safeguards for a society that is increasingly reliant on cellphones.

“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 letter read.

An Apple spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.
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A slew of research has suggested a connection between smartphones and anxiety or depression. One 2017 paper concluded that users who were suffering from those disorders may be more susceptible to what some call “smartphone addiction.” Another found that young people who were “addicted” to cellphones showed an imbalance in brain chemicals correlated with more severe insomnia and impulsiveness.

While concerns about cellphones and their effect on brain function have circulated among the public for decades, the letter marks the first time a tech company’s own shareholders have raised the alarm, policy analysts say, signaling the potential for a wider shift in the industry.

“This is a seminal moment for shareholders to speak to this,” said Jim Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media. The advocacy group has urged Americans not to use their devices at the dinner table with a public service campaign featuring Hollywood stars such as Will Ferrell and which is valued at $50 million in airtime. “This is a huge deal, and it’s only going to get bigger.”

The letter also comes as Silicon Valley faces a larger reckoning with the public. The tech industry has seen its fortunes turn remarkably quickly in the past year as Americans discovered the extent to which fake news, online harassment, sexual misconduct and other troubling problems have affected their personal lives and workplaces.

Saturday’s letter from shareholders argued that adopting a more sensitive approach to children’s well-being would be good for business. Apple could benefit financially, it said, by making its devices and software more attractive to consumers.

A slew of research has suggested a connection between smartphones and anxiety or depression. One 2017 paper concluded that users who were suffering from those disorders may be more susceptible to what some call “smartphone addiction.” Another found that young people who were “addicted” to cellphones showed an imbalance in brain chemicals correlated with more severe insomnia and impulsiveness.

While concerns about cellphones and their effect on brain function have circulated among the public for decades, the letter marks the first time a tech company’s own shareholders have raised the alarm, policy analysts say, signaling the potential for a wider shift in the industry.

“This is a seminal moment for shareholders to speak to this,” said Jim Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media. The advocacy group has urged Americans not to use their devices at the dinner table with a public service campaign featuring Hollywood stars such as Will Ferrell and which is valued at $50 million in airtime. “This is a huge deal, and it’s only going to get bigger.”

The letter also comes as Silicon Valley faces a larger reckoning with the public. The tech industry has seen its fortunes turn remarkably quickly in the past year as Americans discovered the extent to which fake news, online harassment, sexual misconduct and other troubling problems have affected their personal lives and workplaces.

Saturday’s letter from shareholders argued that adopting a more sensitive approach to children’s well-being would be good for business. Apple could benefit financially, it said, by making its devices and software more attractive to consumers.



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