Two Apple investors have written an open letter  to ask the company to address the negative impacts of digital technology on children’s development stating, “There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences.” Janus Partners and the California State Teachers Retirement System, worth $2 Billion of Apple’s $900 billion market value, cite research showing that digital technology causes a distraction for students as well as anxiety and stress.  A New York Times article  “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety“,  notes a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teens in the last 10 years.

Jana Partners managing director Barry Rosenstein and CalSTRS director of corporate governance Anne Sheehan, who signed the letter, reviewed studies showing a link between use of digital technology and concentration, emotional health, sleep and empathy. They examined, among other data, a collaborative research initiative “Growing Up Digital Alberta”  GUD Alberta which looked at health outcomes and technology use.  They found that “a majority (67%) of teachers from this stratified random sample believe that digital technologies are a growing distraction in the learning environment.” In addition 62% of teachers feel that they themselves  were negatively distracted by digital technology and media.

The Apple letter also states, “It is also no secret that social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are usually designed to be as addictive and time-consuming as possible, as many of their original creators have publicly acknowledged… “it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.”

Former Silicon Valley executives like Chamath Palihapitiya have publicly denounced social media sites admitting, “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” Former Facebook Exec says social media is ripping apart society.

To solve this problem Janus and CalSTRS  suggest that Apple, as an innovative leader, help parents by

  1. convening an expert committee, including child development experts, to study this issue
  2.  improve parental controls in their products to help parents limit their children’s cell phone use
  3. hiring or assigning a high-level executive to monitor this issue and develop an annual report

The letter finishes with this insight.  “Increasingly today the gap between “short-term” and “long-term” thinking is narrowing, on issues like public health, human capital management, environmental protection, and more, and companies pursuing business practices that make short-term sense may be undermining their own long-term viability. In the case of Apple, we believe the long-term health of its youngest customers and the health of society, our economy, and the Company itself, are inextricably linked,”

Apple responded stating, “Apple has always looked out for kids, and we work hard to create powerful products that inspire, entertain, and educate children while also helping parents protect them online.”  Apple said it plans new features to help parents control how children use its smartphones.

Articles

Apple Investors Warn iPhones and Other Technology May Be Hurting Children. Jan 8, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/business/apple-investors-children.html

iPhones and Children Are a Toxic Pair, Say Two Big Apple Investors. Jan 7, 2017. https://www.wsj.com/articles/iphones-and-children-are-a-toxic-pair-say-two-big-apple-investors-1515358834

Two large Apple shareholders say it needs to research the impact of smartphones on kids. Jan 7, 2018. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/two-large-apple-shareholders-needs-044819626.html

Apple Investors Shrug Off Child iPhone Addiction Concerns. Jan 8, 2018. https://nypost.com/2018/01/09/apple-investors-dismiss-child-iphone-addiction-concerns/

How Apple Should Respond to Investor Demands to Protect Kids From iPhone Addiction. January 22, 2018. Inc.   https://www.inc.com/bryan-falchuk/should-apple-take-investor-calls-to-do-more-to-protect-kids-from-its-products.html