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?

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2018 @ 8:06pm

    What .. is this now China and youngsters will be sent to internet addiction rehab? Are the private prisons not making enough money? What the hell is this crap?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2018 @ 8:29pm

      Re:

      Anything to avoid actual parenting.

      I suspect that things will escalate to the point where they did in China: children were subjected to electroshock therapy as part of their rehabilitation. Some to the point of death. One particularly ironic case had one such victim's parents lament that they ended up keeping the computer their son had intact, because it contains the only records, photographs, etc of their son... and they don't know how to use it. The one thing they sent their son away for ended up being the one thing they have to remember him by.

      Of course, those cheering such a scheme on will blithely regard the victims as "millennial" weaklings.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    vdev (profile), 11 Jan 2018 @ 9:08pm

    So why is it that Apple is being called out here?? This is not to say that Apple does not have a role - but why is it singled out?

    Everywhere we see claims that Android has the dominant position in the market, so why not start with Google? That would seem to lead to a wider result, wouldn't it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      ryuugami, 11 Jan 2018 @ 11:28pm

      Re:

      So why is it that Apple is being called out here?? This is not to say that Apple does not have a role - but why is it singled out?

      Because it's Apple's shareholders calling them out.

      I guess the next question would be, why aren't Google's shareholders calling Google out? From the article:

      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

      [...]

      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.

      And there you have it. Obviously, the profit motive is not the only one here, but it does act as a significant disincentive for the whole "shareholders calling a company out" thing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Killercool (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 7:09am

        Re: Re:

        That, and, (tell me I'm lying!) Apple shareholders are more likely to be well educated and/or upper class, and therefore more susceptible to scams like homeopathy, wifi allergies, antivaxxing and "device addiction."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2018 @ 9:26pm

    ...That's the first time I've seen clickwrap around a scare site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 11 Jan 2018 @ 9:52pm

    There is currently quite a bit of hang-wringing over the amount of 'screen time' that kids get.

    That 3 hour number is suspiciously identical to the point where TV time was found to turn from a positive to a negative. That was based on a broad study, rather than someone's guesses.

    But a closer examination showed that the study was very misleading. Kids that watched more than 3 hours of TV a day were vastly more likely to have a single parent, or both parents working much more than 8 hours a day. Watching TV in place of other activities was a reflection of their economic situation, not a cause of lower academic or social performance.

    We've created an astonishing world where a person with internet access and a tablet has vastly more resources to learn from than the largest library of a generation ago. Yet it's considered 'better' or more noble to be reading paper than looking at a screen. Why?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 7:10am

      Re:

      We've created an astonishing world where a person with internet access and a tablet has vastly more resources to learn from than the largest library of a generation ago. Yet it's considered 'better' or more noble to be reading paper than looking at a screen. Why?

      Because knowledge is power, but those with power don't wish to share it. They'd rather these poor kids be kept down then raised up. Knowledge CAN be a double-edged sword - when you impart knowledge, some may become discouraged by what they learn; some might use that knowledge for ill purposes rather than the good of all. Such is the nature of knowledge, and should be accepted as the cost rather than suppressing knowledge to avoid any negatives at all.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:42pm

      Re:

      The whole looking at a screen thing is complete bullshit.

      I mean, I'm nearly 40 and I grew up with a ZX Spectrum, gameboy, NES, MegaDrive, etc., as did all my friends, and guess what? I'm on a screen right now typing this while my kids are watching TV haha.

      I mean it's not like all these kids weren't spending all their time playing on their xboxes or playstations. But you know people have to get up in arms about something or another and I guess they got bored of saying consoles, TV, chess, whatever are bad.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2018 @ 10:20pm

    Meh. I'd say the so called "device addiction" is merely the end product of the changes wrought in USA child raising over the last thirty or so years.

    Back in the late 70s and early 80s, a few high profile tragedies gave rise to an awareness that there were bad people out there, who would do bad things to children given an opportunity such as a child being alone. Panic ensued, and over time since then it's become less and less socially acceptable to allow kids to go out on their own. Gone are the days when parents would expect their kids to go play outside in the yard or the neighborhood, and to get themselves home for dinner. Instead parents started insisting their kids stay safely home and inside unless they were at some chaperoned event such as a sport or a club, or hanging out at a friends house(planned ahead of time of course). At the same time social and economic changes meant an increase in single parent households, or households where both parents worked because they both needed to work to make ends meet. Either one leaving no parent available to ferry kids around, or give permission for kids to go do things outside the house.


    For those kids newly stuck at home left to their own devices; we saw TV, videogames, and the telephone step up to fill in the increasing gaps in entertainment and socializing. Instead of playing outside, they watched TV or played videogames. Instead of spending hours socializing with their friends in person, they spent hours on the phone with them. Over time these devices converged into one sort of device in tablets and smart phones. Handheld minicomputers with various radios attached which they could use to watch videos, play games, and communicate with friends by text and by voice. That shift has only been accelerated by parents. No longer able to be there in person for their kids, they've latched on to cellphones(which are often also smartphones) to ensure that they can communicate with their kids, and their kids can communicate with them. Both ensuring that kids have these devices, and encouraging them to be given at younger and younger ages.

    So kids likely aren't addicted to devices, they've merely been pushed into socializing through devices instead of socializing in person, and seen their other means of entertainment be folded into that same device.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2018 @ 11:22pm

    "On average... recieves their smartphone at 10"
    Perhaps we didn't learn the lessons of the 90s. Children should not be allowed to use the internet unsupervised. If you need to be able to call your child get a dumb phone on pay as you go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 3:10am

    Gadget Addiction - not new

    Gadget addiction has been around for a very long time. All that changes is the gadgets in question.

    The guy who was responsible for the mechanical (punch card) calculating machines on the Manhattan project got addicted to finding clever ways of using them, which distracted him from his real task.

    (Reported in Richard Feymann's autobiography).

    I got addicted to a mainframe computer in 1971.

    For most people these addictions don't last very long.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 6:09am

      Re: Gadget Addiction - not new

      Yup - Almost everyone is addicted to their automobile, certainly there are many out there addicted to their refrigerator. There are many other examples, washer/dryer, dishwasher,garage door opener ... and these "older" addictions are being given new and improved addictive appeal via adding an internet connection - brilliant.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 4:02am

    I think Apple can help. You know, by limiting the audience to which those gambling apps (games that are specifically designed to make people addicted via stuff like loot boxes for instance) are available and so. But ultimately addiction is both an health issue and, in case of kids, something parents should be paying attention to. Sadly, gadgets have become a way parents use to make the annoyance (the kids) go away.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 4:28am

    >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.

    Is that cause or correlation? Excessive time on a phone is more likely to be a symptom of not being able to make real world friends easily and/or lack of parental engagement with their children.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Killercool (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 7:22am

      Re:

      The other part is just misleading statistics. The actual numbers are so vanishingly small, that it's really difficult to prove anything.

      The suicide rate of teens is about 7 per 100,000.
      So, 0.007 percent.
      A 75% increase, if verifiable, takes that to ~0.011%.

      Not to undercut the tragedy of teen suicide. Anyone taking their own life is a terrible thing that we should try to prevent.

      But based on the studied time period, you could just as easily claim the increase is related to the increasing legalization of pot. Or the popular use of social media, and it's new avenues of bullying. Or increased global average temperature. Or how electric cars are becoming more common.

      To say the least, I'm skeptical that the fault lies with the devices.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stine, 12 Jan 2018 @ 5:27am

    Yes, they should...

    but only if they can create a form of addiction that lasts for 11 months. This will allow them to continue to sell a new and improved (or at least new and more expensive) iPhone to these kids' parents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    limbodog (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 7:04am

    Backwards

    Our understanding of addiction has been overturned. We know now that it's less about the object of the addict's focus, and more about the dissatisfaction with their lives. (see "Rat Park" etc.)

    If kids are focused entirely on gadgets, perhaps that means they're missing a connection to family/friends that should be looked at.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 7:40am

    Ahhh parents.
    We don't want to do the hard part of raising our kids, can't Siri do it?

    Why does a 10 yr old need a smartphone?

    Why should it matter to Apple that parents get overwhelmed looking for the right 3rd party limiting app so they skip it?

    Why is it I know deep in my bones that after Apple gives better parental controls they are going to get sued by the parents of the kid who guessed the password was 1234 & ended up in trouble?

    Why is it I know they will sue Apple when the parental control doesn't go far enough to stop kids who find ways around it?

    Imagine if parents put as much effort into building self-esteem & teaching their kids how to deal with bullying as they did in demanding a major corporation do the work for them?

    Apple isn't standing outside the gradeschool passing out iPhone to every kid.
    Apple isn't the parent.
    Apple isn't supposed to raise YOUR kids or take the blame so you can keep your mantle of being the best friend & not the mean parent.
    Apple isn't responsible for the made up addiction, its merely a platform.

    More criminals are using cars to drive away from bank robberies, we think car makers should develop tools to have the car shutdown & lock in the criminals if they drive to quickly away from a bank.

    Perhaps the best answer would be to stop texting your kids & actually talk to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 8:05am

    While they're keeping kids from smartphones, how about...

    stopping them from playing console games...
    stopping them from watching TV altogether...
    stopping them from reading those immoral comic books...
    stopping them from reading at all when they should be out playing or working...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 8:45am

      Re: While they're keeping kids from smartphones, how about...

      You forgot that devil music they call rock 'n roll

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 9:19am

        Re: Re: While they're keeping kids from smartphones, how about...

        Don't forget those role-playing games. Gateway to hell right there.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 12 Jan 2018 @ 8:30am

    Could it be...

    Buyers remorse?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 9:02am

    Shareholder Groups Say Apple Should Do More To Address Gadget 'Addiction' Among Young People: Should It?

    No. This is a parental issue, not Apple's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:20am

    In everything moderation, including moderation.

    I really do not understand why people are so eager to jump on technology as bad for you. It's not, it's a tool and just like everything else in the world, too much of it is not a good thing. But too much for one person can be just right or not enough for another.

    Some people work in IT everyday, then go home and tinker with their home computer, or set up a home server lab, or play video games. That's far more than 3-5 hours yet these people aren't anywhere close to suicide. They enjoy it and many still find time to hang out with friends in the real world.

    If we're going to jump on people for technology addiction, then can we jump on people for news addiction? Or how about fashion addiction? Oh! I know! Exercise addiction!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 10:56am

      Re: In everything moderation, including moderation.

      Because our society has put a premium on not accepting the blame for our actions.
      Our child was killed on the road, we sued Apple not the driver who was texting.
      My kid ran off with an older man, I'll sue backpage & not consider that perhaps I was ignoring my kid.
      My kid did drugs, I'll sue someone, rather than admit I noticed drugs going missing from the medicine cabinet & just ignored it until the tragic end.
      My kid was rude to Alexa, Amazon HAS to make it not respond unless they say please & thank you, I shouldn't have to teach my children good manners or take away the tool they are abusing.
      My kid is fat, I'm suing mcdonalds b/c of the toy in the happy meal forcing my children to want them!!! Mind you I drove the kid there, paid for the meal b/c I refuse to tell my kid no. McDonalds is at fault because I can't be the bad guy & tell my kid no & deal with the whining.

      Parents give the tech to their kids & pay no attention to how they use it.
      When I was a kid (42 million years ago) the computer was in a central location in the house, I could expect someone to walk by and see what I was doing, I answered questions about what I was doing, who I was talking to.
      We hand these kids computers & send them into their rooms.
      We ignore them texting at all hours & then when the grade slip we blame the school.
      We never think to take the computer away until they get their shit together.
      How fast do you think a kid would focus on school if you took away the ithingy & gave them a feature phone until they got the grades up?
      We assume teenagers are moody, never asking are they being bullied.
      We don't talk to other parents to try and solve things, we expect some 3rd party to do the heavy lifting for us.

      Its easier to claim its an addiction than to admit parents today are really shitty at parenting.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 12:43pm

        Re: Re: In everything moderation, including moderation.

        ^This.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 7:19am

        Re: Re: In everything moderation, including moderation.

        Thankfully, not everyone is like that.

        Some are good parents. Some are able to admit when they are wrong.

        Everyone is human (except for the lizard people) and therefore susceptible to error - it is human nature to not be perfect. Anyone who claims to be perfect is most likely a liar.

        What is really amazing is when denial occurs even in light of video evidence corroborated by eye witness.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    GEMont, 12 Jan 2018 @ 11:13am

    Ignorance is bliss.

    "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."

    The Expert solution offered:

    Re-Hide reality from children, so they know little about the real world and how ugly it is.

    This will prevent depression and thereby prevent suicide, through pure ignorance of what is actually taking place in the real world.

    Maintain this institutionalized ignorance until they are at least 18, and have learned to filter reality through selective belief systems and are able to maintain their own ignorance of reality like adults.

    Yep. That'll work well.

    Alternate Title: 7 Billion Trumps.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 11:18am

    Why Just Apple?

    Not sure why this is being presented across the media as a problem for Apple to solve. There are plenty of other companies out there making smartphones that are equally as addictive. My niece never seems to look up from her Android anymore.

    If this is truly a problem, then it's one the industry as a whole should tackle, not just dump on the shoulders of one company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:08pm

    hOW ABOUT TEACHING..

    Lets teach people HOW NOT to buy crap at the store, that was Made to look pretty and do nothing..
    Lets teach Corps to make/have made Products that are Worth buying..That last more then a few years..
    Lets teach manufacturers that Building something DESIGNED to fail on a $0.01 part, when a $0.10 part would make it last forever is a better idea.
    Lets teach corps that use Stocks, as Long term, Low interest loans, that never need to be paid back...That stock holders are NOT BANKS..
    LETS teach everyone HOW capitalism is SUPPOSED to work, and how WE can STOP them from over pricing CHEAP goods as if they are gold..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:11pm

      Re: hOW ABOUT TEACHING..

      HOW about teaching kids a work ethic..When they are Young, and not waiting until they are 16..even tho the gov. says they are not SUPPOSED to work until they are 16..
      How about teaching kids the basics of Construction, car repair, welding, Metal shop, and Tons of other things THEIR PARENTS cant..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 13 Jan 2018 @ 9:43am

        Re: Re: hOW ABOUT TEACHING..

        >How about teaching kids the basics of Construction, car repair, welding, Metal shop, and Tons of other things THEIR PARENTS cant..

        That is where YouTube has really come up trumps.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 1:17pm

    If only the share holders rubbed elbows with people educated enough to learn correlation is not causation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jan 2018 @ 2:03pm

    Culling the Herd

    "...more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide..."

    Those genes would not have lent themselves to integration into our future 'borg collective.*

    *Or pretty much any other society going forward. I mean really - you died from an addiction to...your phone? Hand out more phones, and let's improve the breed NOW!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 13 Jan 2018 @ 7:49am

    Wonder what they have to say about automobile addiction, working long hours for low pay addiction, addiction to reading books, addiction to proper medical services... idk, you name it.

    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.

    Honestly, what does this even mean, and who the hell is your control population? And is it considered that the correlation (never mind any claim of causation) is bass ackwards? Although i suppose exposure to people everywhere, leading to the realization that it isn't just your local population who may make you doubt humanity sometimes, could increase the likelihood that you develop a trait that someone considers a "risk factor for suicide". On the other hand, it could be a helpful realization. Sounds like a lot of shoehorning, cherry-picking, and unwarranted conclusions to me, though. (From all the citations, not just the pop-psych Twenge reference.)

    Oh, and JANA. Who ruined CNET Networks and drove them into the arms of CBSi. Thanks guys.

    On the other hand, good parental controls should have been a thing 15 years ago. Hell, applying any kinds of policies on your own devices and network should have been a thing. Control of, and access to the inner workings of your own device should be a thing. I just don't buy their story or "evidence". CSTRS, sure, I buy that they believe it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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