Apple says it looks out for kids as investors raise phone addiction

NEW YORK • Apple said it "has always looked out for kids", defending its technology policy for children, after two major investors urged it to address what they said was a growing problem of young people getting addicted to iPhones.

Shareholders Jana Partners, a leading activist shareholder, and California teacher pension investor CalSTRS, one of the largest public pension plans in the US, delivered a letter to Apple last Saturday asking the company to consider developing software that would allow parents more options to limit children's phone use.

Jana and CalSTRS also asked Apple to study the impact of excessive phone use on mental health. They said they own about US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion) of Apple stock.

Apple said on Monday that since 2008 the iPhone's software has allowed parents to control which apps, movies, games and other content children can access.

"We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them," Apple said.

"We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers' expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids."

It said it had new features in the works to make tools more robust.

The issue of phone addiction among youth has become a growing concern in the United States as parents report their children cannot give up their phones.

CalSTRS and Jana fear "even" Apple's reputation could be hurt if it does not address those concerns.

Half of teenagers in the US feel they are addicted to their mobile phones and report feeling pressure to immediately respond to phone messages, according to a 2016 survey of children and their parents by Common Sense Media.

The phone addiction issue got a high-profile boost from the former Disney child star Selena Gomez, 24, who said she cancelled a 2016 world tour to seek therapy for depression and low self-esteem, feelings she linked to her addiction to social media and the mobile photo-sharing app Instagram.

But some investors said the habit-forming nature of gadgets and social media are one reason why companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet and Facebook added US$630 billion to their market value last year.

"We invest in things that are addictive," said Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management. "Addictive things are very profitable."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'Apple says it looks out for kids as investors raise phone addiction'. Print Edition | Subscribe