Apple should address youth phone addiction, say two large investors

Customers arrive to purchase an iPhone X at an Apple store in New York, U.S., November 3, 2017.

By Elizabeth Dilts

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Apple Inc shareholders Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System are urging the smartphone maker to take steps to address what they say is a growing problem of young people getting addicted to Apple’s iPhones, Jana partner Charles Penner said.

Jana, a leading activist shareholder, and CalSTRS, one of the nation’s largest public pension plans, delivered a letter to Apple on Saturday asking the company to consider developing software that would allow parents to limit children’s phone use, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Sunday.

Jana and CalSTRS also asked Apple to study the impact of excessive phone use on mental health, according to the publication.

CalSTRS and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jana and CalSTRS together control about $2 billion worth of Apple shares, the Journal reports.

The social rights issue is a new turn for Jana, which is known for pushing companies it invests in to make financial changes.

However, the issue of phone addiction among young people has become a growing concern in the United States as parents report their children cannot give up their phones. CalSTRS and Jana worry that Apple’s reputation and stock could be hurt if it does not address those concerns, according to the Journal.

Half of teenagers in the United States feel like they are addicted to their mobile phones and report feeling pressure to immediately respond to phone messages, according to a 2016 survey of children and their parents by Common Sense Media.

The phone addiction issue got a high-profile boost from the former Disney child star Selena Gomez, 24, who said she canceled a 2016 world tour to go to therapy for depression and low self-esteem, feelings she linked to her addiction to social media and the mobile photo-sharing app Instagram.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Tech companies urge U.S. Supreme Court to boost cellphone privacy

FILE PHOTO: A fan uses a cell phone to record a performance during the 2014 CMT Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee June 4, 2014. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than a dozen high technology companies and the biggest wireless operator in the United States, Verizon Communications Inc <VZ.N>, have called on the U.S. Supreme Court to make it harder for government officials to access individuals’ sensitive cellphone data.

The companies filed a 44-page brief with the court on Monday night in a high-profile dispute over whether police should have to get a warrant before obtaining data that could reveal a cellphone user’s whereabouts.

Signed by some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, including Apple <AAPL.O>, Facebook <FB.O>, Twitter <TWTR.N>, Snap <SNAP.N> and Alphabet’s <GOOGL.O> Google, the brief said that as individuals’ data is increasingly collected through digital devices, greater privacy protections are needed under the law.

“That users rely on technology companies to process their data for limited purposes does not mean that they expect their intimate data to be monitored by the government without a warrant,” the brief said.

The justices agreed last June to hear the appeal by Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2013 in a series of armed robberies of Radio Shack and T-Mobile stores in Ohio and Michigan.

Federal prosecutors helped place him near several of the robberies using “cell site location information” obtained from his wireless carrier.

Carpenter claims that without a warrant from a court, such data amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. But last year a federal appeals court upheld his convictions, finding that no warrant was required.

Carpenter’s case will be argued before the court some time after its new term begins in October.

The case comes amid growing scrutiny of the surveillance practices of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies and concern among lawmakers across the political spectrum about civil liberties and police evading warrant requirements.

Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing Carpenter, said the companies’ brief represented a “robust defense of their customers’ privacy rights in the digital age.”

Verizon’s participation in the brief was important, he added, given that it receives, like other wireless carriers, thousands of requests for cellphone location records every year from law enforcement. The requests are routinely granted.

Civil liberties lawyers have said police need “probable cause,” and therefore a warrant, to avoid constitutionally unreasonable searches.

The companies said in their brief the Supreme Court should clarify that when it comes to digital data that can reveal personal information, people should not lose protections against government intrusion “simply by choosing to use those technologies.”

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. pedestrian deaths surge; experts see tie to cellphones

FILE PHOTO: A woman crouches down to take a cell phone photograph as pedestrians walk past in New York, U.S., October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Tom James

(Reuters) – U.S. pedestrian deaths rose sharply for the second year in a row in 2016, according to a study released on Thursday, a trend experts said mirrors increased driver cellphone use and distracted driving.

Last year saw an 11 percent rise in pedestrian deaths over 2015, making it the largest increase in the 40 years that national records have been kept, according to officials with the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices and commissioned the research.

This followed a 9.5 percent increase in 2015.

The study’s author, Richard Retting, called the results “frankly quite startling,” adding that “there’s clearly something happening. This is not a one-off.”

Retting said that he viewed the surge as largely attributable to cellphone use, saying that while it was statistically difficult to rule out other causes entirely, the coinciding rise in deaths and cellphone use suggests a connection.

None of the other factors typically affecting pedestrian deaths – such as population growth, yearly miles driven and walked in the United States – tracked the rise as closely as cellphone use.

Retting said wireless data use on cellphones has shot up dramatically, with 2014-15, the most recent period for which numbers are available, seeing a doubling of the amount of mobile data used in the United States and a 45 percent increase in the number of multimedia messages sent.

A 2016 U.S. Department of Transportation study showed that, while overall numbers for cellphone use in 2014 and 2015 remained relatively flat, the rate of drivers holding up phones and using their hands to manipulate them had more than doubled since 2009, and among the youngest drivers had more than quadrupled.

The replacement of flip phones by smartphones has also increased the risk, said Charlie Klauer, a lead researcher at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

“Smartphones are much much harder to use … and they are far more capable,” Klauer said. “Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook: All of it makes them very dangerous.”

Distracted drivers can also be difficult to catch. While 14 states ban all handheld cellphone use while driving, 32 only prohibit texting, forcing officers to prove drivers seen holding or touching phones were not doing something else, said Kara Macek, a spokeswoman for the governor’s association.

Results among states were mixed in the survey. While 34 saw an increase, 15 states and the District of Columbia saw decreases, and Maine saw no change.

(Reporting by Tom James in Seattle; editing by Patrick Enright and Cynthia Osterman)

Parents fighting teens addiction to cell phones

File photo of contestants competing in the the LG Mobile Worldcup Texting Championship in New York

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Half of teenagers in the United States feel addicted to their mobile phones, with most checking the devices at least every hour and feeling pressured to respond immediately to messages, a survey released on Tuesday found.

The majority of parents concurred, with 59 percent of those with children between ages 12 and 18 saying their kids cannot give up their phones, according to a poll of 1,240 parents and children by Common Sense Media.

The findings from the nonprofit group, which focuses on the effects of media and technology on children, highlighted the tension such close ties to devices can cause, with it disrupting driving, homework and other time together.

About a third of those polled said they argue every day about screen use, the San Francisco-based group said.

“It is causing daily conflict in homes,” Common Sense Media’s founder and CEO James Steyer said in a statement.

Its survey is the latest indication of American families struggling to balance mobile devices in an age of ever-evolving technology. It also underscores the ongoing debate over Internet addiction and its consequences.

A separate review of available data on Internet and technology use cited concerns for problematic media. Multi-tasking can hinder the ability to form memories and the lack of human interaction can also make it harder to develop empathy, Common Sense Media found.

U.S. children between ages 8 and 12 report spending nearly six hours a day using media, while those ages 13 to 18 spend almost nine hours per day using media, according to the group.

“The seemingly constant use of tech, evidenced by teens immediately responding to texts, social-networking posts, and other notifications, is actually a reflection of teens’ need to connect with others,” it said in its review.

Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development and an adviser for the review, said it is still unclear what the ultimate impact of such media use is on children’s behavior.

“We need to devote more time and research to understanding the impact of media use on our kids and then adjust our behavior accordingly,” she said in a statement.

Still, teenagers were not the only cause for concern, according to the poll, which had a margin of error of 4 percentage points. Parents also took big risks.

Fifty-six percent of adults surveyed said they check their mobile phones while driving — and more than half of teens said they had seen their parents do so.

“What we’ve discovered is that kids and parents feel addicted to their mobile devices,” Steyer said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Authorities Investigating Batches of Suspicious Cell Phone Purchases in Missouri

The FBI is investigating multiple reports of bulk purchases of prepaid cell phones in Missouri.

According to various local media reports, law enforcement officials in at least six Missouri towns reported that customers bought a large quantity of the prepaid phones at local Walmart stores.

Prepaid cell phones are popular for a number of reasons, including that they can be bought with cash and don’t require a contract or a credit check like many wireless plans. People can pay for the minutes as they use them, and buy more calling time whenever they need it. But the phones are also attractive in other circles because they’re difficult to trace and can be easily disposable.

Criminals have been known to use prepaid phones, often called burners, to avoid police detection because they can be purchased anonymously and don’t require disclosing a lot of personal information. Terrorists have also been known to use cell phones to detonate explosives.

The first batch of bulk cell phone buys was on Dec. 5, when buyers reportedly went to a Walmart in Lebanon around 4 a.m. and bought 59 cell phones. Law enforcement officials in Macon, Ava, Jefferson City, Columbia and Cape Girardeau also reported similar phone buys on that weekend. Fox News reported that more than 200 prepaid cell phones were purchased in total at the stores.

The purchases came days after a husband and wife killed 14 people and injured 21 more in a Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, in what has been called an act of terrorism.

The American public has been on high alert since that attack.

Searches for concealed carry permits, which allow people to carry hidden handguns in public, have surged to record levels, and a Public Religion Research Institute survey released last week found 47 percent of all Americans fear they or someone in their family will be a terrorism victim.

Americans have long been encouraged to report any kind of suspicious activity through the Department of Homeland Security’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. That’s exactly what the Walmart stores and local law enforcement authorities appear to be doing.

Speaking to the Kansas City Star, FBI spokesperson Bridget Patton said law enforcement officials were “acting out of an abundance of caution” in alerting the FBI about the phone buys.

“We have seen similar purchases of bulk cell phones in the past, and it has been concluded that these transactions were unrelated to terrorism,” Patton told the newspaper.

The Kansas City Star also spoke to law enforcement officials in Macon. Sheriff’s Sgt. Curt Glover noted that people have been known to purchase burner phones and resell them at higher prices.

“I do not feel there’s an immediate threat to the community,” Glover told the newspaper. “This has been going on for the last 15 years. They sell them and make a whole lot more money.”

There weren’t any arrests this month because buying a lot of cell phones at once isn’t illegal, and retired FBI Agent Jeff Lanza told the Kansas City Star that a link to terrorism appears unlikely.

“If you were planning to use those in a terrorist act, you wouldn’t be buying in bulk and attracting attention to yourself,” Lanza told the newspaper. “It would be a stupid way to start buying things to be used as bomb detonators because the first thing people do is call the police.”

The FBI has also been notified about a theft of propane canisters in Kansas City, Patton told the Kansas City Star, but the bureau is leaving the investigations of those thefts to local authorities.

The fact that propane can be used in improvised explosive devices raised some alarm bells, particularly because they reportedly occurred around the time of the prepaid phone purchases. But there’s currently no evidence suggesting the propane thefts and phone buys were related.

Americans are asked to remain vigilant and tell police if they notice suspicious activity.

ISIS Cuts Off Women’s Hands For Using Cell Phone

New reports of the brutality of ISIS are coming from Iraq including their chopping off the hands of women who were using cell phones.

A witness reported that ISIS caught women using cell phones in the city of Mosul and proceeded to cut off their hands for it.  Five men who were caught using cell phones were bound and whipped for “illegal use of the devices.”

“The ISIS militants cut three women’s hands off for unknown charges,” the man claimed. “They also whipped five people for using cell phones to contact their relatives while standing on the celebration stage in the Cultural Compound in central Mosul.”

The terrorists then told the citizens of Mosul if they were found using a cellphone, they would be given at least 30 lashes.

“In order to shut one of the doors of penetration the enemy uses to attain its goals and strike with exactness by means of its war and remote-guided aircraft, it has been decided to forbid the use of any electronic device or a system that has access to service to enable precise location of positions,” the ISIS statement declared.

The terrorist group has cut off all landlines into the city and destroyed cell phone towers to keep the town isolated from the world.

Justice Department Uses Fake Cell Towers On Airplanes

The Justice Department has been spying on millions of Americans through the use of fake cell phone towers attached to airplanes.

The Wall Street Journal revealed the existence of the U.S. Marshals Service program, which reached full functionality in 2007.  The Marshals fly Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan area airports.  The flights can cover most of the U.S. population.

The devices on the airplanes mimic cell phone towers and allow the Marshals to trick cell phones into reporting registration information.  Tens of thousands of cellphones have their data captured during a single flight.

Justice Department officials would not confirm to the Journal the existence of the program.  An official said that to discuss it would allow criminal suspects or foreign powers to determine ways U.S. officials collect intelligence.  He said nothing is done that does not meet federal law including gaining a court’s approval.

The system reportedly can collect a phone’s information even if you have a phone with encryption capabilities, such as the iPhone 6.

Supreme Court To Consider Cell Phone Searches

A major Supreme Court decision is going to be heard Tuesday regarding the Constitutionality of police searching cell phones when someone is arrested.

Multiple court cases have resulted in differing decisions in lower courts requiring the Supreme Court’s involvement.  Supporters of law enforcement say that a cell phone is no different than anything found in the pockets of a suspect when arrested and police should be able to look through it.

However, privacy advocates say that today’s smartphones are similar to computers in their operation and memory storage.  Police without a warrant cannot search computers and privacy advocates say cell phones should gain the same protection.

A criminal law specialist with New York University School of Law said that the cases will put to the test laws that were written before anyone would have known about the digital age.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by June.