Apple promises more parental controls amid addiction concerns

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Apple has responded to calls that it improve child controls on its smartphones.

The spokesperson for Apple assured consumers that the company has "new features and enhancements planned for the future, to add functionality and make these tools even more robust". Such steps would include launching a committee of child development experts to study this problem; offering the company's own vast amounts of data to assist more research initiatives; enabling technologies that can make it easier to limit what apps children can access on a smartphone; educating parents about how they can take on this challenge; and assigning a high-level executive to release annual progress reports on this issue. Sadly, the answers to most of these questions remain unanswered, which is why two major Apple investors are calling on the company to spend more of their time and money finding answers. Though the company listed a number of controls provided to help parents screen content, it offered little to address the investors' chief concern: the amount of time teens and younger children spend on phones. Tony Fadell, who left Apple and went on to co-design the Nest digital thermostat, tweeted that "device addiction is real" and "we need to know where the line is and when we've crossed over to addiction".

The letter came from JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, investors who control around $2 billion of Apple stock.

The investors, who together control around United States dollars 2 billion in Apple shares, said the company should set up an expert committee and release data on the issue.

Besides serving as sources of distraction in the classroom and diverting concentration from educational tasks, smartphones tend to promote a greater risk of depressive illness and self harm among students. "We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers' expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids", Apple said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. Facebook has said social media can be beneficial if used appropriately.

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The Parents Television Council welcomed Apple's announcement that the company would provide additional safeguards on its mobile devices for children.

The letter argued that overuse of such devices - and, in particular, social media - can lead to children getting distracted from work, not getting enough sleep, and experiencing depression - with clear health effects attached to the latter two.

Apple has long marketed itself as a company that believes in family values and that creates "safe" products parents can trust, says Bearse.

"Before Apple speaks, I think it's too early to change the narrative" for investors, said Peter Jones, vice president of research for Ferguson Wellman Capital Management, which has about 350,000 Apple shares.