Tech giant Apple has promised to increase its measures in dealing with smartphone addiction in children. This follows an open letter expressing the concerns of the California State Teachers Retirement System and Jana Partners LLC; shareholders with a US$2 billion-stake in the company.
The letter quoted data, as well as field experts, that points to a very real issue among children and teenagers. It also asserted that technology developers have a responsibility to protect young users.
While the concerned parties did acknowledge the company behind the iPhone and iPad does provide parents and guardians with child-safety tools, they stated that the evidence shows that much more still needs to be done. An increase in the available options would be a demonstration of the educational, inclusive, and other principles on which it was founded.
Tech user-protection is not a new concept, of course. It is something that online casinos have been obliged to offer players for years, and those who understand blackjack strategy can easily make use of other strategies to curb their gaming when needs be. Players’ ages are confirmed before they can play for real money, which helps prevent underage gambling and all reputable sites allow gamblers to exclude themselves for a period of time. They also provide tips for responsible gaming, and publish contact details for recovery programmes and counselling.
The Problem of Phone Addiction
The child smartphone addiction problem is much greater than children not getting enough fresh air. In their open letter to Apple, the shareholders claimed research shows it affects performance at school and sleep patterns, and it contributes to depression.
Quoting San Diego State University psychologist and author Prof Jean Twenge, the missive stated that teenagers in the US who spend 5 or more hours using electronic devices daily were more than 70 per cent likely to be at risk of suicidal feelings.
Criticism From Other Quarters
In a Tweet that echoed the open letter’s sentiments, iPod co-creator and Nest founder Tony Faddell compared smartphone addiction to drug abuse. He also claimed that slavery to phones and social media was not limited to any specific age group.
Faddell likened the ability of Twitter, Facebook, Google Phones, and Apple Watches to keep users on-screen to encouraging them to take another hit of dopamine, a neuro-transmitter that plays an important role in behaviour motivated by reward. He added this placed a responsibility on those companies to help users manage their addictions on all platforms. This was followed by a warning that a failure to do so could lead to governments regulating tech companies.
Similar criticisms have also come from former Facebook executives Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya. The former reportedly said that only God knows what effect the platform has on children, while the latter was quoted as saying social media damaged interpersonal relationships.
Apple Responds Positively
In a statement issued in response to the letter, Apple emphasised its commitment to educating, inspiring, and entertaining children with its products. At the same time, it said, the company was committed to helping parents ensure their children’s safety online.
Among the tools the tech giant built into its operating system from 2008 onwards were content control and restriction options that include password settings, data, websites, music, books, movies, and apps. Apple also vets all content that appears on its various platforms to ensure they are free of pornography and other material deemed offensive, as well as offers age-appropriate guidance.
However, the company acknowledged that there is more to be done. In the statement, it promised added functionality, features, and enhancements to help parents limit the screen-time children enjoy in the future.