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Student group protests Apple over “addictive devices”
(SOPHIE REGAN/The Stanford Daily)

Student group protests Apple over “addictive devices”

Stanford Students Against Addictive Devices (SSAAD) staged a protest on Saturday outside of the Palo Alto Apple store on University Avenue. The student protesters claimed that Apple is failing to take steps to curb technology addiction. They also demanded that the company adjust software features to mitigate users’ constant focus on their devices.

“We felt that this is the kind of change that a lot of consumers have to demand before Apple takes sustained action,” said Sanjay Kannan ’18. “We did some research into how prevalent the problem was, and we realized that 50 percent of teens are addicted to their phones, and 69 percent of [parents] check their phone hourly.”

Kannan cited the statistics from a 2016 poll by Common Sense Media, which staged 1,240 interviews with children aged 12 to 18 and their parents. Kannan leads SSAAD alongside Evan Sabri Eyuboglu ’18, Cameron Ramos ’18 and Divyahans Gupta ’18, all of whom are Stanford computer science majors.

At the protest, SSAAD affiliates handed out fliers, which included a statement coauthored by members of SSAAD, enumerating their complaints and their demands for Apple. The statement cited three studies asserting that phone addiction increases stress, damages interpersonal relationships and reduces productivity, respectively.

In the statement, SSAAD asked Apple to introduce transparent usage patterns which would entail including “an app with every iPhone that tracks phone usage and clearly reports patterns.” Some usage tracking is already programmed into iPhones: currently, users can navigate to the “Battery” section of their settings and track the percentage of overall battery usage attributed to each of the phone’s applications over the past 24 hours and seven days.

On Jan. 9, in response to criticism over phone addiction, an Apple representative said, “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.”

Apple has made attempts to decrease the addictive power of its devices. For example, an iPhone user can set their phone to “grayscale mode,” which changes the iPhone display to shades of gray instead of color and aims to augment iPhone accessibility for color-blind users as well as mitigate phone addiction by reducing vibrant hues.

However, SSAAD called on Apple to do more. The protesters said that by granting more control over notifications to users, Apple can help mitigate device addiction. iPhone users can currently choose to enable or disable different types of notifications, such as banners and badges for individual apps.

Finally, SSAAD wants Apple to create a mode to reduce distraction. In their statement, SSAAD proposed an “Essential Mode,” where an iPhone would only be able to perform essential functions like phone calls, text messages, and photos.

Members of SSAAD said that Apple is well-suited to combat phone addiction due to a unique set of incentives. Unlike the creators of applications like Facebook or Snapchat, Apple does not make money based on how often a customer uses their iPhone.

Kannan said he hopes that if Apple, a leader in the smartphone industry, introduces measures to decrease phone addiction, other companies will follow suit.    

“Historically, Apple has been the one [company] to popularize new features and make them something that every phone consumer expects,” Kannan said. “Face ID is a good example. Other companies did it before Apple, but once Apple did it, it’s like [it became] something we all need to have.”

Multiple passersby stopped to engage with the protesters on Saturday afternoon.

“I agree 100 percent,” one Palo Alto resident said, referring to the protesters’ claims and demands. “Young people today are completely addicted to their phones.”

Maria Bojorquez ’20, a Stanford student unaffiliated with the protest, also agreed with SSAAD’s observations and the organization’s desire to see phone manufacturing companies institute ethical reforms.

“I can totally see that a lot of my friends are addicted to their phones,” Bojorquez said. “When we hang out, they are constantly checking their notifications. I think if [someone] could see the number of times they check their notifications every day, they would see that they have a problem.”

The SSAAD founders believe that they and other computer science students have a moral obligation to speak out about technology addiction.

“We are going to go work for these different companies and we need to have some sort of ethical footing,” Kannan said. “I’d say this is one of the more uncontroversial issues out there. I think a lot of people agree that people are addicted to their phones.”

 

Holden Foreman contributed to this report.

Contact Sophie Regan at sregan20 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

This post has been updated to reflect that Divyahans Gupta, not Divya Gupta, is a leader of SSAAD. The post has also been updated to include more of Apple’s Jan. 9 statement and to cite the statistics Sanjay Kannan referenced.

An earlier version of the article also misspelled Kannan’s last name, as well as the group’s acronym, “SSAAD.” The Daily regrets these errors.

  • Tomia Louringly

    hey, kids! nobody forced you to stare at your phone all day. maybe try putting it down. it isnt apples fault.

  • Harald Striepe

    Nanny devices. The next thing will be a demand to restrict dangerous and upsetting information on these devices.
    Do these kids want an Orwellian/Brave New World dystopia?
    This is why we also no longer tolerate speakers on campus with views that might upset the little darlings.

    Strange New World…

  • arkham_orderly

    These kids are putting their money where their mouth is by protesting aspects of the company and industry that will (or perhaps now, will not) hire them. Make no mistake, these are not PC snowflakes or whatever you call them but people taking actual career and financial risks for things they believe in. You may disagree with their beliefs but you should at least acknowledge that this is actual potential sacrifice and not the usual empty sloganeering.

  • Guy

    It’s a platform (as are most computing devices). If you allow yourself to be addicted, it’s hardly the fault of the company that provides the platform. Show a little backbone and just put it down.

    No it isn’t any kind of sacrifice as they’ll be upset and/or protesting something else tomorrow will all the compassion they can muster (SQUIRREL!).

  • Harald Striepe

    I think, you misunderstand my comments. I do not doubt, their concerns are genuine. I question the wisdom of their approach.

    Restricting action or choice is a very dangerous option for any society striving to be free, whether it is on your personal device or the information it provides.

    There clearly are dangers. The Computer History Museum had a very interesting evening on “Our Brain’s Development in a Technological World,” which loudly rang alarm bells. You can find it on their facebook site. The danger is real and impacts not just our behavior but actually the development of value systems etc. The Kardashians would not have their net worth without Instagram and Twitter.

    But the educated choice is personal meta awareness and managing your behavior. If that does not prove easy enough, just delete the social apps altogether. Especially Facebook is consciously engineered to modify your brain.

    The channel and client (Internet and iPhone) should NOT be restricted, unless you like life in China or Russia. iPhone does have plenty of options to restrict Notifications etc.

    ps I consider myself a “liberal snow flake.” I do not agree with most of the alt-right philosophies and claims. But I do think that the way to deal with opposing views, even those radical and not fact based, is to listen and refute. To silence speakers like Ben Shapiro or even disgusting trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley is undemocratic and especially bad for students at a university, who need to learn to deal with rational and irrational arguments from the other side in a reasoned way.

  • arkham_orderly

    Oh I’m totally on the same page with you about allowing people to speak, and feel that silencing right-wing speakers has harmed liberalism far more than it’s helped (which is easy since the amount it has helped liberalism is zero.) Sadly, most of the people who push back against this are themselves right-wingers, and that is kind of where I thought you were going with things at first.

    It seems to me though that most of what the students are asking for are additional settings and controls that are completely in the hands of the user. This does not seem like restriction or limiting speech. It seems more like putting more control into the hands of the users, and making it easy to screen out distractions when they need to.

  • Andrew Smith

    I agree that having a tool to get a summary of more detailed usage would be good to have. But, it is not Apple’s responsibility to curb addiction. That responsibility lies with the user, and their parents in the case of children. How about not buying your child a smartphone before a certain age? How about not letting them be on it for hours a day? And for yourself, curb your own addiction. It’s your choice to use your phone as often as you do. And it’s your choice to have those apps on your phone and have every notification turned on. Take responsibility for yourself, and stop blaming it on someone else.

  • Scott Campbell

    Here’s a tip for all of you morons…
    SIMPLY GROW A BRAIN, AND PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN!!!!

  • Scott Campbell

    I swear this is the most IDIOTIC crap I’ve ever read! So what’s next? You retards gonna start blaming Chevrolet for making you wanna drive too much because the Camaro is too addictive???

  • TellItLikeItIs

    Isn’t Stanford a well respected university? And yet they don’t teach their students what personal responsibility and control are? Well, it is in Kalifornia, so there’s that.

  • Adjustments

    Is there any chance they are just spoofing us with an attempt to raise money. They have a donate link on their non-addictive website. I have to believe that with the level of intelligence that we’ve come to expect from Stanford students, that this is simply an attempt to fleece some unsuspecting dupes. This reads like a story right out of the Onion.

  • Mike Sullivan

    Honk if you don’t know how to turn off notifications on your phone.

    Seriously, you’re in charge of your life. Turn off notifications for everything except your calendar. Schedule an amount of time that you want to spend looking at internet services. When your calendar notification pops up, look at the services you care about. You can even set a second reminder to stop when the time you have allotted for this activity is over. Don’t look at your phone except for the times that you have decided. Adjust the times as needed. You’re in charge.

    Or, pretend it’s Apple’s fault and march in the street. Whatever. You do you – but, if you can’t manage your communication preferences (that you already have tools to control; see above), how will you manage the difficult aspects of your life?

  • The Truth

    So…their problem is that Apple created a product that people want and buy? And then blame said company that they, the consumer, not only bought the product but then, according to them, abused it and became addicted? Where is personal responsibility here? What do they want Apple to do? Stop making products that people want to buy? Sounds like a hell of a business strategy. “Hey everybody, I made a product that will drop us from number one down to number six in sales! It will decrease profits by 42% and will cause us to layoff 300 employees in the first sixty days!” Stupid children with stupid ideas who blame others for their problems. The real kicker? These morons are studying to be in the tech industry.

  • oldcoot

    I guess that the little snowflakes also expect Mother Nature to wipe their ass’s ( the only word that I can use that they would understand ) for them too.

  • MyVyoo

    So it’s Apple’s fault you kiddies have no self discipline?