Should tech companies address 'phone addiction'?


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Two major shareholders of Apple Inc. say there’s a growing social ill that comes from the iPhone: phone addiction, particularly among children.

Jana Partners LLC, a large investment firm, and the California State Teacher’s Retirement System (CALSTRS), a state pension group, published an open letter to Apple urging the tech company to develop software that prevents children from becoming dependent on smartphone applications.

“We have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner,” reads the letter.

The letter raises the question whether technology companies that design phones or stimulating applications have a responsibility to make their products less addictive. Several studies indicate that people are increasingly having difficulty living without their mobile devices. With the average American teenager getting a phone at age 10.3, there is concern over how smartphones affect the undeveloped minds of children.

As holders of $2 billion of Apple stock, Jana and CALSTRS aren’t interested in banning children from using iPhones. Apps that block younger audiences already exist, but the two groups say they don’t do enough.

The investors want Apple to develop new software that effectively prevents young minds from internet addiction, which they argue would further elevate the company’s reputation.

Although Jana and CALSTRS are based in the United States, technology addiction is a global issue that stretches far beyond Apple. South Korea struggles with an increasingly anti-social youth, who’ve become reclusive because of an internet obsession (Washington Post)

Critics say phones provide access to online gaming and social media platforms, both of which have the potential to foster addiction.

However, an opposing business view came from Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management. “Addictive things are very profitable,” Gerber said, quoted by Reuters.“We invest in things that are addictive”.

Apple responded to the investors’ concern in a statement sent to newsagency Bloomberg. The company said that its software has been offering extensive parental control since 2008. Although parents can currently determine which apps and content their kids are allowed, the existing tools are criticised for being too basic.

The tech giant is planning to enhance and incorporate new features for more robust control. “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’s spokeswoman said.

 

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