Two large Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) shareholders wrote to the company to express concern that smartphone use, particularly iPhone use, could be bad for child and teenage development. In the letter to Apple, they requested support for further study of the issue.
The letter was sent from JANA Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and was sent to Apple’s board. The two investors claim to own about $2 billion in Apple shares. Apple’s market cap is close to $800 billion.
In part, the letter read:
… 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.
The studies reviewed included ones from Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta, UCLA, and the American Psychological Association. The research indicated that overuse of digital products, social media and “personal devices” can cause distractions, high risk of depression and suicide, and sleep deprivation.
Among the suggestions to combat the issues, according to the two investment firms, Apple should:
Expert Committee: Convening a committee of experts including child development specialists (we would recommend Dr. Rich and Professor Twenge be included) to help study this issue and monitor ongoing developments in technology, including how such developments are integrated into the lives of children and teenagers.
Research: Partnering with these and other experts and offering your vast information resources to assist additional research efforts.
New Tools and Options: Based on the best available research, enhancing mobile device software so that parents (if they wish) can implement changes so that their child or teenager is not being handed the same phone as a 40-year old, just as most products are made safer for younger users. For example, the initial setup menu could be expanded so that, just as users choose a language and time zone, parents can enter the age of the user and be given age-appropriate setup options based on the best available research including limiting screen time, restricting use to certain hours, reducing the available number of social media sites, setting up parental monitoring, and many other options.
Education: Explaining to parents why Apple is offering additional choices and the research that went into them, to help parents make more informed decisions.
Reporting: Hiring or assigning a high-level executive to monitor this issue and issuing annual progress reports, just as Apple does for environmental and supply chain issues.