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CalSTRS, JANA urge Apple to study tech impact on kids

CalSTRS and JANA Partners are calling on Apple Inc. to study the impact of frequent cellphone and tablet use on children and teenagers, and provide more choices for parental control.

In a letter to Apple's board of directors on Jan. 6, executives from the $221.7 billion California State Teachers' Retirement System, West Sacramento, and JANA point to several studies that found the frequent use of digital technologies by children and teenagers can lead to negative consequences on their health and well-being, including depression, sleep deprivation and a limited ability to focus on educational tasks in the classroom.

The letter also cites a survey of more than 3,500 U.S. parents by the American Psychological Association, which found that 48% of parents said regulating their child's screen time was a "constant battle," 58% of parents said they feel like their children are attached to their phones or tablet, and 58% worry about social media's influence on their child's physical and mental well-being.

While Apple already has some parental controls in place, these are "limited largely to shutting down or allowing (parents) full access to various tools and functions," CalSTRS and the activist hedge fund manager argued in the letter. Furthermore, "while there are apps that offer more (parental control) options, there are a dizzying array of them; it is not clear what research has gone into developing them; few if any offer the full array of options that the research would suggest; and they are clearly no substitute for Apple putting these choices front and center for parents."

"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 to an app designer, or more accurately to hundreds of app designers, none of whom have critical mass," the letter states.

To address these issues, CalSTRS and JANA suggested Apple, among other things, form a committee of experts to study these issues and monitor ongoing developments and trends; partner with additional experts to enhance research efforts; enhance parental choices on mobile devices; and assign a high-level executive to monitor these issues and prepare annual progress reports. CalSTRS and JANA's recommendations for enhanced parental controls include changes to the initial setup menu that would allow parents to enter the age of the user and receive age-appropriate setup options such as limiting screen time and reducing the number of available social media sites.

CalSTRS and JANA own about $2 billion of Apple shares combined.

A copy of the letter can be found on Thinkdifferentlyaboutkids.com, a new website set up by JANA.

An Apple spokesman could not immediately be reached for additional information.