Two of Apple’s major investors have urged the iPhone maker to take urgent action to curb children’s growing addiction to its smartphones, amid fears frequent use may be damaging the next generation.
New York-based Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or CalSTRS, which collectively control $2bn (£1.47bn) worth of Apple shares, said the US firm must offer more choices and tools to help children fight addiction to its devices.
At present, parents can block or limit specific apps and features on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
In an open letter to Apple on Monday, the investors suggested the company goes a step further and allow users’ ages to be inputted into phones, screen time to be limited, as well as a restriction on use to certain hours.
They also called on the firm to establish a committee of experts to study the impact of technology on children and to assign a top level Apple executive to take responsibility for the issue.
“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 said.
Video: April 2017: Children treated for mobile phone addiction
“As one of the most innovative companies in the history of technology, Apple can play a defining role in signalling 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 letter cited various studies and surveys to argue how the heavy usage of smartphones and social media negatively affects children’s mental and physical health.
Examples included students being distracted by mobile devices in the classroom and a link between high usage of smartphones and a possible increased risk of suicide and depression.
The letter also cited research showing that the average American teenager spends 4.5 hours a day on their smartphone, excluding texting and talking.
The investors wrote: “It would defy common sense to argue that this level of usage, by children whose brains are still developing, is not having at least some impact, or that the maker of such a powerful product has no role to play in helping parents to ensure it is being used optimally.”
Image: Selena Gomez linked her depression in part to social media
The issue of smartphone and social media addiction has been in the spotlight for some time.
Selena Gomez cancelled the European leg of her world tour in 2016 to seek therapy for depression and low self-esteem, which she linked to the autoimmune disease lupus – as well as her addiction to social media and the mobile photo-sharing app Instagram.
Part of the treatment involved giving up her smartphone for three months.
Last year, Sky News revealed children as young as 13 are checking into a US treatment centre near Seattle to try to break their addiction to digital technology, including video games.
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More recently, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, said he felt “tremendous guilt” over the creation of the site and urged people to take a “hard break” from social media which he said was “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”.
Sky News has contacted Apple for comment.