Investors urge Apple to do something about smartphone addiction

A couple of large Apple shareholders are appealing to the company that popularized the smartphone to take responsibility for studying its effects on children — and the co-creator of the iPhone agrees.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System and JANA Partners, which own a combined $2 billion in Apple shares, are urging the world’s most valuable public company to help study the issue, release annual progress reports about its findings and expand options for parental controls on its devices.

“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,” the investors wrote in a letter dated Jan. 6. “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.” (They’re looking at you, Facebook.)

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CALSTRS and JANA cite several research studies related to smartphone addiction. The studies show personal devices distract kids in school, and affect children’s physical and mental health. One study links excessive use of personal devices to a higher risk of suicide.

“Some may argue that the research is not definitive, that other factors are also at work, and that in any case parents must take ultimate responsibility for their children,” the investors wrote. “But it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.”

Tony Fadell, one of the creators of the iPod and iPhone, added a hearty “hear, hear!” via a tweetstorm Monday. He noted that adults have also become addicted to their smartphones, and that other companies should help the effort being urged by the Apple investors, too.

“Apple Watches, Google Phones, Facebook, Twitter – they’ve gotten so good at getting us to go for another click, another dopamine hit,” Fadell said on Twitter. “They now have a responsibility & need to start helping us track & manage our digital addictions across all usages – phone, laptop, TV etc.”

Fadell added: “They’re the only ones who can do this – they own the OS & app ecosystem. They need to do more, like single-use device modes: when I’m reading an ebook on my tablet, listening to music (ala iPod)…no email or facebook notifications, no texts.”

The investors’ letter, signed by Barry Rosenstein, managing partner of hedge fund JANA, and Anne Sheehan, director of corporate governance for CALSTRS, asked the Silicon Valley company for a chance to discuss the matter with its board.

Apple has not yet returned our request for comment.


Photo of iPhones from Associated Press archives


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  • Roxy Balboa

    How about I tell them to take a hike

  • Roxy Balboa

    Also Tony Fadell is not the co-creator of iPhone.

  • Roxy Balboa

    Besides android is the dominant platform and they should be taking the lead here.