Apple shareholders demand study on smartphone addiction among kids

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Summer camp is coming to an Apple Store near you.
Kids drawing on an iPad at an Apple Store.
Photo: Apple

An activist investor and pension fund with shares in Apple is asking the company to respond to a “growing public-health crisis” concerning smartphone addiction among young people.

Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, sent a letter to Apple over the weekend, asking it to develop software to let parents limit phone use. They also want Apple to carry out a study investigating the impact of smartphone overuse on mental health. The two groups control a total of around $2 billion worth of AAPL shares.

The Wall Street Journal notes that this is the first instance of a large Wall Street activist engaging in the kind of social responsibility campaign that would typically be coming from smaller fringe investors. Usually activist shareholders are more interested in urging companies to make financial, rather than social, changes.

The Jana initiative is reportedly targeting Apple as the first of several companies it believes can make changes to be better ‘corporate citizens.” Jana includes the rock star Sting and wife Trudie Styler on its advisory board along. Other notable names include Sister Patricia A. Daly, a nun who successfully fought Exxon Mobil regarding environmental disclosures, and Robert Eccles, an expert on sustainable investing.

“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 shareholders wrote in their letter. “There is a developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility.”

While Apple CEO Tim Cook has been outspoken about wanting Apple to stand as a “force for good” in the world, he has not been so vocal about the potential damage of overuse of smartphones. The closest thing that Apple does to this is its App Store guidelines which state, for instance, that apps aimed at users under the age of 13 should not use Apple’s Face ID technology for security.

Interestingly, Steve Jobs once told New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that he limited the amount of time his own kids spent using their iPhone and other gadgets.

The question that Apple, and other tech companies, will likely have to face in the years to come is how much responsibility they have, versus parental figures, when it comes to kids’ overuse of technology. What do you think? Let us know your comments below.