Dem lawmakers push Apple on public health risks, iPhone slowdowns

Dem lawmakers push Apple on public health risks, iPhone slowdowns
© Camille Fine

A group of Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyLawmakers set for tearful goodbye to John Lewis Intelligence community rolls out guidelines for ethical use of artificial intelligence Black Caucus unveils next steps to combat racism MORE (D-Ill.) are pushing Apple to provide more answers on how its products can negatively affect consumers, as well as the company's slowed-down iPhones.

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Kelly, a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, requested in a letter along with other lawmakers that Apple provide more insight into smartphone addiction among children who use its products. The letter also asked for information about actions the company is taking to curb the Spectre and Meltdown chip vulnerabilities and how it slowed down its phones without letting consumers know.

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The group’s letter addresses areas that have become a series of public relations headaches for Apple over the last month.

While there has been discussion in Silicon Valley about the potentially harmful effects of technology, this discussion only became an issue for Apple last month after two of its largest shareholders wrote an open letter to the company asking it directly to address childhood technology addiction.

Observers had also speculated that Apple intentionally slowed its products as they aged as a part of a “planned obsolescence” scheme to get consumers to buy new iPhones. Following research indicating that Apple software was slowing iPhones down, the company admitted it slowed down phones as they aged to preserve battery life, prompting consumer backlash.

Lawmakers hit Apple hardest on the public health risks of smartphones and the effects of slowed devices in their letter to CEO Tim Cook.

“We share in the belief that it would be unfair to paint smartphone addiction as solely an ‘Apple problem.’ However as a highly visible and dominant market player in the smartphone space, we believe Apple’s leadership on this issue can help industry and public health stakeholders take proactive steps to cultivate socially responsible and accountable best practices,” the lawmakers wrote.

“As Members of Congress representing a significant population of iPhone users, lower income Americans, and communities of color, we’d like to engage you in a purposeful manner to make certain that Apple’s iPhone performance modifications on older model iPhones did not have an adverse impact of these populations, and did not harm consumers,” they continued.

Research shows that lower-income communities of color rely heavily on mobile broadband for access to the internet.

The lawmakers also expressed concern over the Spectre and Meltdown chip flaws, which affect devices using Intel, AMD and Arm processors, making them vulnerable to hacks.

Apple has said that it is not aware of consumers being affected by the vulnerability, but the group questioned this, noting the sheer volume of people affected.

“With billions of people worldwide exposed to the threat of Spectre and Meltdown, and cyber criminals enabled to steal data from nearly all of your products, it is important to us that Apple exhaustively monitor this security threat,” the lawmakers wrote.

Their letter follows others written to tech companies by Kelly and other CBC members about other issues it has taken with their practices, as well as ramped up pressure on such firms by the caucus.

In November the CBC pushed its Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to bring on a black board member, which she agreed to.