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 KellyFacebook to remove over 5K ad target options to curb discrimination Dems want GOP chairman to subpoena State Department over cyber docs Lawmakers sound alarm over Amazon face recognition software 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

House Energy and Commerce Committee members Reps. Yvette ClarkeYvette Diane ClarkePoll shows Rep. Luis Gutiérrez as front-runner in Chicago mayoral race Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Dems plan resolution to withdraw US forces from Yemen civil war MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyTrump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel Dems plan resolution to withdraw US forces from Yemen civil war MORE (D-Ill.), as well as Congressional Black Caucus members Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanHillicon Valley: Sanders finds perfect target in Amazon | Cyberattacks are new fear 17 years after 9/11 | Firm outs alleged British Airways hackers | Trump to target election interference with sanctions | Apple creating portal for police data requests Cyberattacks are a constant fear 17 years after 9/11 Beware the ides of the African American woman MORE (D-N.J.), Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeTrump attacks Dems on farm bill Dem lawmaker sees 'probability’ that next Speaker will be black Moulton looks to recruit new generation of Dem leaders MORE (D-Ohio) and Marc VeaseyMarc Allison VeaseyOvernight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks Bipartisan solution is hooked on facts, not fiction House Dems launch '18 anti-poverty tour MORE (D-Texas), also signed the letter.

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.