The Strategist

Investors ask Apple to save children from smartphones

01/10/2018 - 14:01

Apple’s investors, funds JANA Partners and California State Teachers' Retirement System, called on the smartphone manufacturer to take measures to resolve the large-scale crisis - the growing dependence of children and young people on smartphones. According to the letter’s authors, Apple could develop new programs that would allow parents to control and limit the time spent by children in phones, and also could study impact of excessive use of smartphones on the mental health of children.

The JANA Partners hedge fund and the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS), which own shares in Apple for a total of $ 2 billion, sent a letter to the company to protect children and young people from negative consequences of excessive use of smartphones. Existence of such consequences, both for the physical and mental health of children and young people, is evidenced by recent studies, to the results of which the authors of the letter referred.

A study by the Boston Children's Hospital and the University of Alberta has shown that the number of students who are being distracted by digital technology during the educational process is growing. At the same time, 75% of the respondents (out of 2.3 thousand teachers) state that the students' ability to concentrate on the educational process has decreased. In the opinion of 86% of the teachers surveyed, over the last three to five years the number of students who has problems with communication and physical activity has also increased.

Another study, conducted by the professor at the University of San Diego Jean Twenge, states that American teenagers who spend at least three hours a day with electronic gadgets have a 35% higher risk of suicide than those who use them less than an hour a day. For those who spend more than five hours a day with a smartphone, the risk increases to 71%. Children that constantly use smartphones are also under a growing threat of depression. Scientists say that if a person experiences depression during adolescence, the likelihood of developing it in later life is much higher. Scientists of the University of California at Los Angeles, having organized a five-day camp for teenagers where children were not allowed to use gadgets, concluded that after such rest the children were more emotionally responsive than the control group, which was not deprived of the gadgets.

According to the American Psychological Association, 58% of parents surveyed (3,500 people in total) are concerned about the impact of social networks on the physical and mental health of their children.
In addition, 48% of parents say that they have to "constantly fight" with children for limiting the time spent with the gadget. 58% of parents believe that their child already has dependence on a smartphone or tablet. At the same time, according to statistics, an American teenager gets their first smartphone at the age of ten and spends more than four and a half hours a day with it (excluding conversations, as well as sending and reading SMS).

Recognizing Apple's unique role in innovation and the fact that the company's brand is one of the most expensive in the world, the authors of the letter note that Apple should demonstrate an "innovative spirit" in another area: to show that technological companies are responsible to their young consumers. This can be achieved by giving parents more opportunities to ensure that children use Apple products "in an optimal way" and that they do not develop dependence on gadgets.

To start, the authors of the letter suggest creating an expert council, which will include specialists in the health and development of children and adolescents. Apple could provide this council and other professionals of this profile with its extensive information resources, as well as supporting the necessary research. In addition, the authors of the letter suggest creating special programs and applications for smartphones that take into account age of the user. For example, with their help one could limit the time of using the gadget, the number of sites visited or social networks, etc. Until now, Apple has not published any recommendations for parents on how to regulate the use of smartphones by children and at what age it is optimal to buy them the first phone.

The letter to Apple is just the first stage of the campaign that JANA Partners, the well-known investor-activist, and CalSTRS are now deploying, and within the framework of which they intend to raise several billion dollars to increase the level of responsibility of large corporations to consumers. Among the partners supporting this campaign and included in the Advisory Board, are several scientists whose research was used to draw up the evidence base, as well as the British singer Sting and his wife Trudie Styler.