Shareholders, Including a Teacher Pension Fund, Urge Apple to Combat...


Shareholders, Including a Teacher Pension Fund, Urge Apple to Combat Tech Addiction

Jan 9, 2018

AN APPLE ADDICTION: Engaged time. Engaged users. Daily active users. These are just a few of the success metrics that define modern digital media—and drive revenue. In the race to monetize our attention, companies have deployed notifications, gamified feedback loops, and other bells and whistles to keep adults and kids engaged and coming back for more. But when is it working too well—to the detriment of our health?

Concerns over technology addiction resurfaced last week when two of Apple’s largest shareholders wrote a letter urging the company to play a more proactive role in researching and combating device addiction. It summarized published research that links the overuse of electronic devices to increased feelings of isolation, distraction, depression and sleep deprivation.

The letter is signed by Jana, a hedge fund that, according to The New York Times, “is often vilified for its aggressive focus on short-term profits,” and The California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The two collectively own about $2 billion worth of Apple stock.

The steps recommended by the shareholders include convening a committee of child development specialists, offering parents more controls over how their children can use devices, and reporting more actively to parents about the issues.

The letter, and the accompanying media attention, raises a challenge: Can technology companies grow revenue and decrease usage? Its signatories seem to think so. “We believe the long-term health of its youngest customers and the health of society, our economy, and the Company itself, are inextricably linked,” they wrote.

“We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them,” Apple said in its prepared response. “We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers' expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.” The company teased at “new features and enhancements” in the works but did not offer any details.


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