In an open letter to the tech giant, New York-based Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System wrote of their increasing concern about the effects of mobile devices and social media on youngsters, urging Apple to offer more tools and choices to help prevent harm.
“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 to an app designer, or more accurately to hundreds of app designers.”
The letter cited several studies revealing the negative effects of smartphones and social media on children’s mental and physical health. For example, one study found that 67 percent of over 2,300 teachers surveyed believe that the number of students who are negatively distracted by gadgets in the classroom is growing, while 75 percent say students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased.
In another study, eighth graders who are heavy users of social media were shown to have a 27 percent higher risk of depression, compared to children who exceed the average time spent playing sports, socializing with friends, or doing homework, all of whom have a much lower risk.
To counter the threat, the investors – who collectively control $2 billion worth of Apple shares – suggested that Apple set up an expert committee including child development specialists and make its information more available to researchers. The letter also proposed enhancing iOS and associated apps to give parents and guardians more resources to protect their children’s wellbeing.
This is a complex issue and we hope that this is the start of a constructive and well-informed dialogue,” said the partners. “As one of the most innovative companies in the history of technology, Apple can play a defining role in signaling 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.”
Update: In a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal, Apple said that iOS devices offer extensive parental controls that allow parents to oversee the content and apps being used by children.
“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.”
Apple also said that it makes sure the App Store is free from offensive material like pornography with clearly labeled apps that allow parents to find age-appropriate content. Apple also said that it is “constantly looking” for ways to improve its device and said new “even more robust” parental controls will come in the future.