2 Investors Warn Apple About Technology’s Effects on Children

Posted January 8, 2018 2:58 p.m. EST

A pair of investors who say they hold about $2 billion in Apple stock are pushing the company to do more to protect its youngest users from the effects of digital technology.

In an open letter to Apple, the investors, the activist hedge fund Jana Partners and the California state Teachers’ Retirement System, voiced concerns that such technology might be hurting children and said Apple could help ease the damage even as it generates business.

“We believe that addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders, by creating more choices and options for your customers today and helping to protect the next generation of leaders, innovators, and customers tomorrow,” they wrote in the letter, dated Saturday.

The investors, whose combined holdings are small compared with Apple’s approximately $900 billion market value, cited research suggesting that the prevalence of digital devices, such as the laptops, tablets and smartphones Apple makes, may be negatively affecting children.

One survey of teachers in Alberta, Canada, found that about 2 in 3 believed that digital technology was increasingly distracting their students, according to the letter. And research by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, suggests that the rise of digital technology may be linked to an increase in mental health problems among teenagers.

Addressing the issue now could help Apple avoid an impending reckoning as unease grows over the role technology and social media play in our daily lives, the shareholders wrote.

Even those involved with designing such technologies have acknowledged their downside and potential for misuse.

“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 investors wrote.

The solution, they argued, is not to banish such devices from children’s hands, but to help parents help them understand how to use technology with care.

To achieve that goal, they said, Apple should form a committee of experts, fund research, improve parental controls in its products, educate parents and regularly report on the company’s progress.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.