Apple should study how iPhone use might hurt kids, two big investors say

A child plays with a smartphone while riding a subway train in New York.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Two big shareholders of Apple Inc. are concerned that the entrancing qualities of the iPhone have fostered a public health crisis that could hurt children — and the company as well.

In a letter to the smartphone maker dated Jan. 6, activist investor Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System urged Apple to create ways for parents to restrict children’s access to their mobile phones. They also want the Cupertino, Calif., company to study the effects of heavy usage on mental health.

“There is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences,” says the letter from the two investors, which combined own about $2 billion in Apple shares. The “growing societal unease” is “at some point is likely to impact even Apple.”

“Addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders,” the letter says.


The letter cited early research showing some negative effects phone usage has had on children, such as being distracted in the classroom, higher risks of depression and suicide, and sleep deprivation.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the letter, which was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.

It’s a problem most companies would kill to have: young people liking a product too much. But as smartphones become ubiquitous, government leaders and Silicon Valley have wrestled for ways to limit their inherent intrusiveness.

France, for instance, has moved to ban the use of smartphones in its primary and middle schools. Meanwhile, Android co-founder Andy Rubin is seeking to apply artificial intelligence to phones so that they perform relatively routine tasks without needing to be physically handled.


Apple already offers some parental controls, such as the Ask to Buy feature, which requires parental approval to buy goods and services. Restrictions can also be placed on access to some apps, content and data usage.

The letter asks that Apple go further in its efforts to understand the effect its products have on children, including:

  • Creating a committee of child development experts to study the issue.
  • Using the latest research to create tools that give parents more control over their children’s technology usage, such as allowing parents to input a child’s age and being offered age-appropriate phone setup options that limit screen time, restrict usage hours and reduce the available number of social media sites.
  • Publishing annual progress reports, much like Apple does for environmental and supply chain issues.

The activist pressure is the latest in a series of challenges for the tech giant. Last week, Apple said that all of its Mac computers and iOS devices, which include iPhones and iPads, faced security vulnerabilities due to flawed chips made by Intel Corp. At the tail end of 2017, the company apologized to customers for software changes that caused older versions of its iPhones to run slower than newly introduced editions.
Times staff writer Tracey Lien contributed to this report.



8:20 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the shareholders’ letter.

This article was originally published at 6:45 a.m.