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Investors Invoke Advocacy Efforts Pressuring Apple Over Smartphone Addiction and Mental Health

Mental health risks motivate investors to pressure Apple to introduce new policies for heightened parental control to protect young users

New and rare advocacy efforts by Apple investors pressure the firm to investigate the link between smartphone addiction and mental health issues.

Jana Partners LLC and the California Teacher’s Retirement System, a pension fund holding approximately 1.5 billion of Apple shares, issued a statement on January 6th this year detailing their concerns due to increasing dependency on smartphones and the link to depression and other mental health issues.

In partnership with Dr. Michael Rich, founding director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital, and San Diego State University Associate Professor and psychologist Jean M. Twenge, Jana Partners LLC and the California Teacher’s Retirement System conducted a study finding alarming connections between usage of smartphones and the likelihood of depression later in life.

These reports include additional studies conducted by Center on Media and Child Health and the University of Alberta, as well as UCLA, whose findings add confidence to the research finding that overwhelming screen-time creates a sense of “attachment” and therefore dependency on smartphone technologies. These “attachments” have been shown to contribute to lack of sleep, isolation, and even increase the risk of suicide.

To increase awareness, Dr. Jean Twenge published an Atlantic article asserting the new generation, or “iGen,” a term coined to describe the new technologically dependent generation, is at high risk. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades,” she states.

“The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2015,” indicating that not only are children partying less, which can be on the surface can be seen as a net positive, but rather that children are not going out at all and thereby losing out on social skills only obtained by interactions with others.

These reports are the basis for the growing concern of Jana who believe the impact of technology on young consumers is critical. Jana Partners and Calstrs have called upon on Apple to investigate these “unintentional negative-side-effects” of iPhone usage precisely because of their dominance in the market and because of potential backlash.

Normally focused solely on financial matters, Jana LLC and partners show that investors are leveraging their role to advocate for new policies. This trend comes alongside the rising trend of tech companies such as Facebook, who have created a social network for users as young as six.

Jana Partners and Calstrs see an opportunity for Apple to research and find ways to reconstruct their privacy settings for parents to gain more control over children’s usage and content.

In doing so, they believe a “strategic change” will not only benefit consumers but will prevent what they predict will become a “regulatory backlash,” should they leave the issue unaddressed.

Jana has been successful in other high-profile campaigns to restructure firms such as Whole Foods and Qualcomm and hopes to lead in curbing smartphone addition campaign efforts. Despite only holding less than 1% of shares of Apple, Jana is confident in taking on this issue as it implicates users and investors alike.

[via Financial Times]

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