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. The investors also want Apple to carry out a study investigating the impact of smartphone overuse on mental health. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the two groups control a total of around $2 billion USD worth of Apple shares.
“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 the 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.”
The letter cites multiple research studies into the negative effects of smartphones and social media on children’s mental and physical wellbeing. The investors are also pressuring Apple to create a high-profile executive role overseeing those efforts and release annual progress reports.
One example includes a “decreased ability” among students to focus on educational tasks, with one study showing that 67 percent of 2,300 teachers observed that the number of students who are negatively distracted by digital technologies.
Another example includes a higher risk of suicide and depression, with research concluding that US teenagers who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to commit suicide. The risk increases to 71 percent for those who spend five hours or more.
The shareholders said that Apple “would once again be playing a pioneering role” if it were to lead the way in protecting its younger users from the harmful effects of addiction. Those who penned the letter accepted that the issue was complex and that it hopes this action is the start of a “constructive and well-informed dialogue.”