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Apple moves to address the scourge of device addiction

smartphone addiction

Some Apple investors have had a go at it for corrupting children so it’s thinking of introducing more parental controls.

Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System collectively own around $2 billion of Apple stock (around 0.2% of the total). They also have little time for festive larks, opting instead to spend the Christmas period drafting a po-faced open letter to Apple, urging it to act on the public health ticking time-bomb that is iOS devices.

They published the letter on a website rather ambiguously called thinkdifferentlyaboutkids.com on 6 January, when most normal people were joining gyms, drinking super-food smoothies and contemplating resigning from their jobs. The underlying aim was laudable enough, but the tone and approach taken was at times comical.

“We believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner,” it opened, citing one Professor Twenge as an expert source for this assertion. It went on to warn that “…there is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, [use of Apple devices] may be having unintentional negative consequences.”

This body of evidence has already grown to no less than four separate pieces of research, which the letter outlines, but then somewhat undermines itself with the following passage: “Some may argue that the research is not definitive, that other factors are also at work, and that in any case parents must take ultimate responsibility for their children.  These statements are undoubtedly true, but they also miss the point.”

So, to recap, the authors have a small collection of evidence that they concede is not definitive, but insist that anyone saying that is missing the point. The point seems to be that using Apple devices a lot MUST be having some kind of effect, especially what with social media being more addictive than drugs and that.

“According to the APA survey cited above, 94% of parents have taken some action to manage their child’s technology use, but it is both unrealistic and a poor long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight this battle alone.” Unrealistic to ask parents to manage their children alone? Right, OK.

The next bit is a wonderful exercise in doublespeak. “While expert opinions vary on this issue, there appears to be a developing consensus that the goal for parents should be ensuring the developmentally optimal amount and type of access, particularly given the educational benefits mobile devices can offer.”

There appears to be a growing consensus? What the hell is that supposed to mean? A ‘growing consensus’ alone could mean anything from two people cautiously agreeing to global unquestioning obedience but they won’t even fully commit to that, warning it could all be a mirage or hallucination. Twenge agrees.

There’s loads more of this sort of thing and, amazingly, Apple seems to have not only read all of it but been moved to act too. Venturebeat got a statement from Apple that is largely the standard ‘self-promotion dressed up as actually talking about things’ fare we have come to expect from Silicon Valley PR. But it does seem to acknowledge the need to ramp up its parental controls. Here it is in full

Apple has always looked out for kids, and we work hard to create powerful products that inspire, entertain, and educate children while also helping parents protect them online. We lead the industry by offering intuitive parental controls built right into the operating system.

With today’s iOS devices, parents have the ability to control and restrict content including apps, movies, websites, songs and books, as well as cellular data, password settings and other features. Effectively anything a child could download or access online can be easily blocked or restricted by a parent.

We began delivering these controls for iPhone in 2008 with the introduction of the App Store, building on what we’d learned from offering similar features for the Mac a few years before iPhone was introduced. We also have a long history of curating our content platforms to make sure they are free of offensive material, such as pornography, and clearly labeled so parents can determine if an app, movie or song is age-appropriate. Of course, we are constantly looking for ways to make our experiences better. We have new features and enhancements planned for the future, to add functionality and make these tools even more robust.

We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them. We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.

As a parent who faces a daily struggle to contain his children’s iPad cravings, your correspondent is acutely aware of their allure to the young. This is, however, just one of countless ordeals that is parenthood and it would be ludicrous to blame Apple for making a device I chose to buy so useful. Having said that a more comprehensive suite of parental controls would be handy, such as the ones Microsoft has had in place for years. How about an app that lets you shut the iPad down remotely? Now that would be fun – Muhahaha!

  • TechXLR8


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