Shareholder Groups Say Apple Should Do More To Address Gadget 'Addiction' Among Young People: Should It?
from the won't-somebody-think-of-the-children-even-more? dept
In an open letter to Apple, two of its major shareholders, Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, have raised concerns about research that suggests young people are becoming “addicted” to high-tech devices like the iPhone and iPad, and the software that runs on them. It asks the company to take a number of measures to tackle the problem, such as carrying out more research in the area, and providing more tools and education for parents to help them deal with the issue. The letter quotes studies by Professor Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, who is also working with the shareholders in an effort to persuade Apple to do more:
Professor Twenge’s research shows that U.S. teenagers who spend 3 hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely, and those who spend 5 hours or more are 71% more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than 1 hour.
Other quoted research found:
The average American teenager who uses a smart phone receives her first phone at age 10 and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it (excluding texting and talking). 78% of teens check their phones at least hourly and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones.
According to the letter, at least part of the solution needs to come from Apple:
we note that Apple’s current limited set of parental controls in fact dictate a more binary, all or nothing approach, with parental options limited largely to shutting down or allowing full access to various tools and functions. While there are apps that offer more options, there are a dizzying array of them (which often leads people to make no choice at all), it is not clear what research has gone into developing them, few if any offer the full array of options that the research would suggest, and they are clearly no substitute for Apple putting these choices front and center for parents.
The Apple shareholders behind the letter admit that it is not entirely altruistic:
we believe that addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders, by creating more choices and options for your customers today and helping to protect the next generation of leaders, innovators, and customers tomorrow.
Building on this, they also shrewdly point out that Apple has little to fear from moves to give parents more control over their children’s use of Apple products:
Doing so poses no threat to Apple, given that this is a software (not hardware) issue and that, unlike many other technology companies, Apple’s business model is not predicated on excessive use of your products. In fact, we believe addressing this issue now by offering parents more tools and choices could enhance Apple’s business and increase demand for its products.
That’s in contrast to Facebook or Google, for example, both which want people to use their respective products as much as possible so as to maximize the opportunities for advertising. Apple has already responded with a fairly generic reply, published on the iMore site:
we are constantly looking for ways to make our experiences better. We have new features and enhancements planned for the future, to add functionality and make these tools even more robust.
Unless that functionality goes well beyond the perfunctory, it is unlikely to satisfy the shareholder groups, who presumably want the “full array of options” they mention. The danger for Apple is that a limited response might lead to it being swept up in the growing backlash against Silicon Valley and its products, evident in a number of recent articles. One thing Apple could do is to make it easier for third parties to write apps that address the problem in a thoroughgoing way — something its tightly-controlled ecosystem may make harder than for Android.
A broader issue is how serious the problem of gadget “addiction” in children really is — and how it should be tackled. Clearly, the parents play a key role here, but what about the hardware and software companies who profit from it? To what extent should they provide fine-grained parental controls — should social media, for example, offer parents the capability to limit the number and timing of daily posts made by their children, and would that even help?