Posts Tagged ‘smartphones’

New Mental Heath Problem: Video Game Addiction

June 18, 2018

Video Game Addiction Tries to Move From Basement to Doctor’s Office

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Video games work hard to hook players. Designers use predictive algorithms and principles of behavioral economics to keep fans engaged. When new games are reviewed, the most flattering accolade might be “I can’t put it down.”

Now, the World Health Organization is saying players can actually become addicted.

On Monday, “gaming disorder” will appear in a new draft of the organization’s International Classification of Diseases, the highly regarded compendium of medical conditions.

Concerns about the influence of video games are dovetailing with increasing scrutiny over the harmful aspects of technology, as consumers look for ways to scale back consumption of social media and online entertainment.

The W.H.O. designation may help legitimize worries about video game fans who neglect other parts of their lives. It could also make gamers more willing to seek treatment, encourage more therapists to provide it and increase the chances that insurance companies would cover it.

“It’s going to untie our hands in terms of treatment, in that we’ll be able to treat patients and get reimbursed,” said Dr. Petros Levounis, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “We won’t have to go dancing around the issue, calling it depression or anxiety or some other consequence of the issue but not the issue itself.”

Around the world, 2.6 billion people play video games, including two-thirds of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Annual revenue for the industry is expected to grow 31 percent to $180.1 billion globally within three yearsFortnite — the latest blockbuster, in which players battle to be the last one standing in an apocalyptic storm — recently earned a reported $300 million in a month.

The industry has pushed back against the W.H.O. classification, which is expected to be formally adopted next year, calling it “deeply flawed” while pointing to the “educational, therapeutic and recreational value of games.”

But gaming has long had an addictive quality. The game EverQuest, introduced nearly 20 years ago, was nicknamed EverCrack for the long binges it inspired.

Now, mental health professionals say they increasingly see players who have lost control.

“I have patients who come in suffering from an addiction to Candy Crush Saga, and they’re substantially similar to people who come in with a cocaine disorder,” Dr. Levounis said. “Their lives are ruined, their interpersonal relationships suffer, their physical condition suffers.”

Read the rest at the source:



Compulsive video gaming playing now new mental health problem

The World Health Organization says compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition—a move that some critics warn may risk stigmatizing its young players.

In its latest revision to an international disease classification manual, the U.N.  agency said Monday that classifying “Gaming Disorder” as a separate condition will “serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue.”

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s department for mental health, said WHO accepted the proposal that Gaming Disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to “the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world.”

Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents and said only a minority of gamers would be affected.

Others welcomed the move, saying it was critical to identify  game addicts quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don’t seek help themselves.

“We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they’re seeing their child drop out of school, but because they’re seeing an entire family structure fall apart,” said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO’s decision.

Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.

“Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view,” said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points.”

He guessed that the percentage of video  players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small—much less than 1 percent—and that many such people would likely have other underlying , like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.

 Explore further: WHO gaming addiction classification an important step for treatment, says expert



We Still Don’t Fully Understand Suicide. But We Do Know What Reduces It

June 14, 2018

Life handed us a one-two-three punch last week. Tuesday morning, we learned of Kate Spade’s suicide. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing a 25% increase in suicide deathssince 1999, the year the U.S. Surgeon General declared suicide a preventable public health problem. And Friday morning, we awoke to the news that Anthony Bourdain took his own life.

The deaths and statistics were shocking. Spade added color and whimsy to a hyper-intellectual fashion industry. Bourdain brought his bad-boy irreverence to a culinary world devoted to tradition. Their products—purses and food exploration—brought joy to so many people. None of it made sense. Why did they kill themselves?

We still don’t know exactly why people die by suicide. But we do know some things that increase risk for suicide, including access to firearms, loneliness and social isolation, and inadequate mental health services.

June 12, 2018

If we’re going to reduce suicide deaths, we need to see firearms as a safety issue, not a Second Amendment issue. In 2016, 23,000 people killed themselvesusing a firearm. Research has shown that firearm background checks and waiting periods significantly reduce suicide.

Should we restrict gun access to those without a known mental illness? Not according to the June 8 CDC report: Significantly more people without a known mental illness (55%) died by firearm than did people with a known illness (40%). This suggests that if we want to save lives, we need to make firearm safety a population-wide issue.

We also need to shift our cultural priorities away from fame and fortune at all costs and toward community and connection. Thomas Joiner, psychologist and suicidologist, suggested that one of the main factors in suicide is loneliness. The great American promise is that we can be whatever we want to be. The great American tragedy is that most of our institutions—from schools to corporations—expect us to get there by sacrificing time with friends and family.

We need to address well-being starting in kindergarten, not wait until a high school student tells us they want to die. We need schools to say, “Spend time with family, not on homework.” We need universities to say, “We’d rather see a photo of you having a great time with your friends than another extracurricular activity on your college application.” And we need stockholders to say, “We value employee family time as much as overtime.” The more time we spend with our loved ones, the easier it is to see when things are going wrong, connect them to people who can help, and help them build lives worth living.

Image result for facebook, zuckerberg photos

We need to harness technology for social good. This means partnering with tech giants to analyze data so we can identify patterns of risk and automate interruptions. Social networks have learned how to nudge users to buy products. What if we could use that information to learn which nudges redirect emerging suicide risk and prevent self-harm? If the rise in youth suicide risk is correlated with smartphone use, as an influential 2017 study suggested, there is an ethical imperative for tech giants to partner with suicide prevention experts to share data, develop scalable automated interventions, and prevent suicide.

Last week we were all affected by the tragedy of suicide. This week we move forward with the work of suicide prevention, work that is fundamentally about hope. If you are inspired to save lives, check in with people you love and care about—even if they seem like they are living the dream. Donate to your local crisis hotline. Call your representative and tell them to fund suicide prevention at the same level as we fund smallpox. There’s always something you can do, no matter how small.

If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “start” to 741-741.

Jonathan B. Singer is an associate professor at Loyola University Chicago’s School of Social Work and the secretary for the American Association of Suicidology.



Social Media Contributing to Epidemic of Mental Illness

June 14, 2018

NHS is “picking up the pieces” of an epidemic of mental illness among children, fuelled by social media, the head of the service has warned.

Simon Stevens urged companies like Google and Facebook to take more responsibility for the pressures they place on children.

Young girl using an iPad at home

It follows calls for social media and online gaming firms to have a statutory “duty of care” to protect children from mental ill health, abuse and addictive behaviour.

The Telegraph
13 JUNE 2018 • 7:00PM
The icons of social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, on a smartphone

Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester, Mr Stevens said Britain’s children were hit by a “double epidemic” of mental illness and obesity.

The average person in this country spends twice as long on the toilet as they do exercising
–Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England

But he said the health service could not tackle its ills alone – turning on social media giants to do more to protect children.

“We have to ask some pretty searching questions around the role of technology companies, social media and the impact that is having on childhood,” he said.

“This cannot be a conversation that is simply left to the NHS to pick up the pieces for an epidemic of mental health challenge for our young people, induced by many other actors across our economy.”

He also called for more action to tackle unhealthy lifestyles, and said he hoped to see “renewed pragmatism” from the Government in its updated childhood obesity strategy, due to be published soon.

“The average person in this country spends twice as long on the toilet as they do exercising,” the NHS chief executive said.

Protect yourself and your family. Find out more about our Duty of Care campaign to regulate social media

Digital and social media firms should be forced to protect children from addiction, experts say

June 11, 2018

Social media and online gaming firms should have a statutory “duty of care” to protect children from mental ill health, abuse and addictive behaviour, a coalition of the country’s leading experts demands today.

Data amassed by charities, academics and doctors links children’s use of social media and gaming to a range of serious and lasting harms, many of which build gradually over time and go undetected by parents or teachers.

They accuse businesses such as Facebook and Snapchat of cynically targeting children as young as eight, using addictive “hooks” from the worlds of behavioural psychology and gambling to capture “new skins” to keep them logged on for as long as possible.

Experts say existing controls are not effective, with charities like Barnardo’s reporting a growing number of middle-class children seeking help with issues such as internet addiction, sex texting, grooming and online bullying.

The Daily Telegraph today launches a duty of care campaign, as ministers consider new measures to rein in the worst excesses of online firms which it is feared are now harming a generation of young people.

The campaign calls for digital companies to have a legal duty to protect children using their services.

Writing today, Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), calls on the Government to introduce statutory regulation.

“For too long, social networks have been allowed to treat child safeguarding as optional. We don’t have the same protections in place online as we do offline,” he writes.

“After years of inadequate action I am absolutely adamant that now is the time to introduce statutory regulation on social media sites.”

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has identified “worrying” evidence of an association between heavy internet use and increasing rates of childhood depression, mental ill health and obesity.

Examples include a 15-year-old boy from north London being admitted to hospital for eight weeks after becoming addicted to online gaming, and Felix Alexander, from Worcester, who took his own life, aged 17, after being relentlessly bullied online.

The growing concern comes as an investigation by The Telegraph found:

  • Almost a quarter of UK schoolchildren now spend more than six hours a day online outside school hours, with 4 per cent at risk of a clinical definition of addiction – four times the proportion of alcoholics in the population;
  •  A doubling in the number of children seeking help from the NSPCC’s Childline for cyber-bullying in the last five years, with many victims suffering depression, self-harming and in some cases attempting suicide;
  •  Police arrest six people a day for grooming children via social media apps, with 1,628 crimes recorded since the introduction of a new offence of sexual communication last year.

The concept of a duty of care has a long history in English and Scottish law and has successfully been used since the Thirties to bring rogue business as diverse as factory owners and property developers to book.

William Perrin, one of the Whitehall team that created Ofcom and a trustee of Carnegie UK Trust, said a statutory duty of care was needed if the Government was to meet its stated aim of making the UK “the safest place in the world to be online”.

“A duty of care, backed up by a regulator, will reduce the costs to society caused by badly run social media platforms and, crucially, will stand the test of time”, he said.

Felix Alexander, left, took his own life aged 17 after being bullied online
Felix Alexander, left, took his own life aged 17 after being bullied online CREDIT: TELEGRAPH

Children’s weekly internet usage has exploded in the past decade – doubling for under-11s and up 50 per cent for children aged 12 to 15 – and experts say it is partly because social media and gaming firms are deploying psychological tricks which feed addiction.

Prof Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University and Britain’s leading expert on addiction, said high-quality studies showed 4 per cent of adolescents – equivalent to one child in every classroom – were now classed as at risk of internet addiction.

A much larger proportion – anywhere between 10 per cent to 50 per cent – could be classed as “habitual users”, immediately picking up every email or notification, and checking social media a few times an hour.

These children, although not formally addicted, could suffer educationally and experience withdrawal symptoms.

Prof Griffiths said “fear of missing out” was the most effective psychological hook played on by social media companies alongside a desire to stay online for an “unpredictable reward” such as a “like” or new friend request – the same technique that keeps adults playing fixed odds slot machines for hours on end.

“As soon as you get an activity that is available 24/7, youngsters have a fear of missing out and not knowing what is going on.

“If there is no Wi-Fi, they have withdrawal-like symptoms,” he said.

The World Health Organisation this year moved to classify gaming addiction as a mental health disorder.

Dr Richard Graham, a specialist in the area, said typical outcomes of internet addiction included social isolation, conflict with parents and more complex psychological problems.

He said some of his patients spent up to 15 hours a day online, with one German teenager requiring hospital treatment for dehydration after failing to drink while gaming for more than 24 hours.

Dr Graham accused social media companies of mounting “an arms race” to keep children online with, for example, Snapchat streaks – which reward children for reaching 100 days of continuous online activity.

“It’s a race to the bottom: how can we keep you online magnetically for as long as possible?,” he said.

Liz Kendall, the Labour MP and member of the science and technology committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health, welcomed the duty of care campaign.

“This is a hugely important issue as social media now plays such a big part in young people’s lives”, she said.

“Whilst there are many positives about social media, there are also real risks … particularly [for] young women and girls”.

Simon Hart, the Tory MP and member of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said he thought change was on the way.

“I have this feeling that in 10 years’ time, we will be looking at some of this activity in the same way we look at cigarettes now.”

Snapchat denied it used psychological hooks to keep people online.

A spokesman said: “Snapstreaks are our way to allow for friendships to deepen over time, just like real life… we have also made the streaks indicator 30 per cent smaller in recent updates of the product to make them even less of a focus.”

The spokesman added that Snapchat had been designed without “public vanity metrics” such as likes or shares.

It was also working to encourage young people to develop friendships offline outside the app.

She added that a dedicated safety team would respond to concerns or reports such as online bullying within 24 hours and in most cases took action within two.

She said potential users were required to provide their date of birth to register and it used additional checks such as behavioural and interest-based data to confirm the truth of the age claim.

Facebook had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.


  (Smartphone addiction messes up brain chemistry)

France bans cellphone use in public schools

June 9, 2018

French lawmakers have approved a ban on the use of mobile phones in public schools. Critics have said the move will do little to end classroom disruptions or bullying.

Young girl texting on a smartphone (Imago/Photocase)

Opponents to the blanket ban on mobile phone use said it is unlikely to wean students off their phones. The legislation — approved by members of France’s lower house National Assembly on Thursday — would require students to keep their phones out of sight. However there was no penalty specified in the law for their use. Lawyers said that teachers do not have a right to confiscate non-dangerous belongings from students.

Supporters of the bill said smartphone usage among children has worsened cyber-bullying, eased access to pornography and hampered the ability of youngsters to interact socially.

Read more: Smartphone addiction messes up brain chemistry

Smiling teenager with smartphone (picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/Tetra-Images)Critics say the law is unlikely to wean students off their smartphones

Richard Ferrand, head of French President Emmanuel Macron’s ‘Republic on the Move’ party in parliament, said the law would improve childrens’ social skills.”When, on a playground, you see young people next to each other all staring at their phones,” the consequence is “to break the link of camaraderie and sharing,” Ferrand said.

Some 93 percent of 12-17 year olds had a cellphone, according to a 2016 survey by France’s electronic communications and postal regulatory authority (ARCEP), up from 72 percent in 2005.

President Emmanuel Macron hopes the bill will pass through parliament in time to impose the ban before the start of the next academic year in September.

Read more: 100,000 German teenagers addicted to social media, study finds

kw/bw (AFP, Reuters)

See also:

Filipino youth more at risk to pitfalls of digital media


Smartphone addiction messes up brain chemistry

The brains of young people who use their smartphones or the internet too much sustain chemical changes. These change correlate significantly to diagnoses of addiction, depression and anxiety.

Afrikanischer Teenager mit Smartphone (picture-alliance/Bildagentur-online/Tetra-Images)

A team of researchers around South Korean radiology professor Hyung Suk Seo managed to detect changes in the chemistry of brains of teenagers who either use the internet or smartphones in an addictive manner.

The scientists from Korea University in Seoul tested 19 young men who had an average age of 15 1/2 years. All were suffering from smartphone or internet addiction. The doctors detected the severity of addiction through a standardized test, asking patients the extent to which they used the internet or smartphones and how that affected their daily routines, social life, productivity, sleeping patterns and feelings.

As a control group, researchers also tested 19 boys of equal age who did not have diagnosed signs of addiction as a control group.

Dr. Seo reported that the addicted teenagers significantly more often reported depression, anxiety, insomnia and impulsivity.

Looking for neurotransmitters

The doctors took 3D images of the brains of the participants using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). It works like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a three-dimensional x-ray. However, in addition to the regular MRI imaging, MRS is also able to display the chemical content of fabric and cells.

The scientists were particularly interested in gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) – a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits or slows down brain signals. They were also looking for the amino acids glutamate and glutamine, which interact with GABA. Those control the extent to which neurons become electrically excited.

GABA has an influence on vision, motor controls and on the regulation of various brain functions such as anxiety and sleepiness.

Brain chemistry losing its balance

It turned out that the addicted teenagers had a higher amounts of GABA than glutamate and glutamine in their anterior cingulate cortex (a specific part of the front part of the inner brain).

A brain-model (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Weigel)The cingulate cortex is the outer red area. The anterior cingulate cortex is located at the far right of the model.

The researchers also noted a significant correlation between the measurements and the diagnosed levels of addiction, depression and anxiety.

However, there is some good news, after all: Twelve of the addicted participants also took part in a cognitive behavioral therapy program, and the ratio of GABA to glutamate and glutamine normalized within those patients who received the nine-month therapy.

What the researchers want to find out next: Is there a similar imbalance in the GABA to glutamate/glutamine ratio in other patients with different forms of addiction?

The researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of Northern America (RSNA) in Chicago on November 30th 2017.

US has reached a deal with ZTE to lift ban, says commerce secretary

June 7, 2018

By Pan Kwan Yuk in New York

The US has reached a deal with China’s ZTE that would lift a ban that prevented it from buying US components, allowing the embattled telecoms heavyweight to return to business.

Image result for ZTE building, photos

Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Thursday that the US has signed a definitive agreement with ZTE, under which China’s second-largest telecoms equipment maker will pay $1bn in fines and put in place board and management changes in exchange for the removal of the sanctions.

“At about 6am this morning, we executed a definitive agreement with ZTE. And that brings to a conclusion this phase of the development with them,” Mr Ross said in a CNBC interview.

The US first hit ZTE with a total ban on sourcing US components in April after it was caught violating US sanctions on Iran and North Korea, and the terms of a subsequent plea agreement.

The move nearly brought ZTE to the brink of collapse given that the company is highly dependent on US suppliers for parts used in its phones and other products.


ZTE Nears Deal to End U.S. Ban, but Customers Are Antsy

June 7, 2018

A preliminary agreement with the U.S. would allow the company to resume buying parts from American suppliers and restart factories, but challenges remain

SHENZHEN, China—ZTE Corp. is nearing a deal with the U.S. to save its business, but the Chinese telecommunications giant faces more battles ahead to turn around its fortunes as losses pile up and aggrieved customers demand compensation for delayed projects.

On Monday, ZTE executives in Shenzhen signed a preliminary agreement that would allow it to resume buying parts from American suppliers and restart idle smartphone and telecom-equipment factories following an April ban imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department, according to people familiar with the matter.

To clear the path to an agreement, ZTE has gone on the offensive to remedy its failures to meet the conditions set by the Commerce Department under a settlement of a probe into the company’s evasion of American sanctions on Iran and North Korea. ZTE has stripped responsibilities and job titles from a clutch of senior employees, issued letters of reprimand, and is attempting to claw back bonuses from 35 people, one person said.

Time is short for ZTE. It is facing a flurry of demands for compensation from foreign telecom network operators whose projects have stalled without supplies from ZTE, the people said. Even if U.S. companies resume shipments to ZTE, the Chinese company must win back customers and shake off damage to its reputation from the episode.

Why Trump’s ZTE U-Turn Has Sparked Backlash

President Trump’s mixed messages about a plan to help controversial Chinese telecom giant ZTE has baffled Washington. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday breaks down three reasons why lawmakers see the company as a threat. Illustration: Adam Falk

It isn’t clear when a formal deal will be ready, the people said. The agreement is under legal review by Trump administration officials and could be ready in a matter of days, one of these people said. Late last month, President Donald Trump said he would allow ZTE to resume buying U.S. goods in exchange for a fine of $1.3 billion and a leadership shake-up.

Mr. Trump’s actions have effectively turned ZTE into a bargaining chip in broader U.S.-China trade negotiations, which are sputtering. ZTE’s fate has also been linked by investors and analysts to China’s pending approval of Qualcomm Inc.’s $44 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors NV.

ZTE has been effectively closed for business since the mid-April Commerce Department order.
ZTE has been effectively closed for business since the mid-April Commerce Department order. PHOTO: WANG ZHAO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

“No definitive agreement has been signed by both parties,” a Commerce Department spokesman said. A ZTE spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Members of both parties in Congress criticized Mr. Trump for aiding a Chinese firm that evaded U.S. sanctions. “Congress should move in a bipartisan fashion to block this deal right away,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in a tweet Tuesday.

ZTE has been effectively closed for business since the mid-April Commerce Department order. The firm relies on an array of critical American components to build its phones and cellular equipment, including smartphone chips from Qualcomm Inc. and optical components used in base stations from smaller firms such as Maynard, Mass.-based Acacia Communications Inc. ACIA 1.59%

The company is now contending with blowback from customers, according to people familiar with the matter.

ZTE base stations and other cellular equipment are languishing in warehouses, leading major overseas customers to begin demanding penalty payments for unfinished work, according to these people. One of ZTE’s biggest European customers, the Italian carrier Wind Tre SpA, has demanded €100 million ($117 million) from ZTE for stalled construction and maintenance of its network, according these people. A spokesman for Wind Tre declined to comment.

ZTE’s coveted U.S. smartphone business is also under threat, with the wireless carrier T-Mobile US Inc. TMUS 0.77% last month telling ZTE it is walking away from an agreement, worth more than a billion dollars, to distribute ZTE smartphones and other gadgets in the U.S., according to people familiar with the matter.

A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the company is “monitoring and assessing the ZTE developments very closely and will certainly make any necessary changes or adjustments to take care of our business and our customers.”

Nearly three-quarters of ZTE smartphone sales are to customers in the U.S., where it is the fourth-largest vendor. The company spent years building its brand there through advertising campaigns and cultivating relationships with wireless carriers. Last year, ZTE sold 19 million phones in the U.S., according to research firm Canalys.

At ZTE’s Shenzhen headquarters on Monday, top management led a meeting of hundreds of senior and midlevel employees, according to a person familiar with the matter. At the meeting, executives took turns engaging in self-criticism, and ZTE’s chairman, Yin Yimin, pledged to improve management practices and culture, the person said.

In the weeks since the April order, many ZTE employees have been passing the time with team-building activities, training exercises and by singing motivational songs, including one song posted on social media about “being together in the same boat,” according to current and former employees.

ZTE has an uphill battle hanging on to customers, analysts said. It is one of the world’s leading firms competing in the race to develop “fifth-generation,” or 5G, wireless technology.

“If you’re a carrier in Europe that uses this company, and you’re uncertain about whether the denial order is lifted,” said Paul Triolo, of the political risk-consulting firm Eurasia Group, “you’re going to be rethinking your supply chain, particularly with things like 5G.”

Write to Dan Strumpf at

Appeared in the June 7, 2018, print edition as ‘ZTE Works to Repair Damage From U.S. Ban.’

Google braced for Brussels penalty over abuse of market dominance

June 7, 2018

EU expected to make regulatory intervention against Google’s business model

EU’s Vestager to escalate battle with tech group by ruling Android device maker terms illegal

Image may contain: one or more people and closeup

Rochelle Toplensky in Brussels

Brussels is preparing to hit Google next month for abusing its dominance through the Android mobile operating system, concluding the most important of a trio of EU antitrust investigations into the company.

Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, is poised to announce the negative finding within weeks, according to people familiar with the case, marking the most significant regulatory intervention made against Google’s business model.

A penalty is expected in the Android case, but its size is unclear. The commission is empowered to impose fines of up to $11bn — which is 10 per cent of the global turnover of Google’s parent company Alphabet — but typically decisions are at the lower end of the range.

The decision will mark an escalation of the commission’s battle with Google, which began eight years ago with an investigation into comparison shopping, then only a narrow part of online commerce. Though that case concluded with a €2.4bn fine, it has not led to significant changes to Google’s business.

Image may contain: one or more people
A third investigation is under way into whether the company unfairly banned competitors from websites that used its search bar and adverts.

Android is the operating system used in more than 80 per cent of the world’s smartphones and is vital to the group’s future revenues as more users search on their mobile gadgets.

The European Commission investigation concluded that the US group imposed illegal terms on Android device makers, which harmed competition and cut consumer choice.

By contrast with the comparison shopping case, the Android case takes aim at a core part of Google’s strategy over the past decade: using its mobile operating system as a platform to push smartphone adoption of its search engine and smartphone app store.

Google denies wrongdoing but has seen no sign of the commission dropping its concerns or seeking a settlement to the case.

The Android case is the most commercially sensitive of all its battles with the commission, since it touches on business practices that have helped cement its position in the mobile search and advertising market.

When it unveiled its charge sheet against Google in 2016, the commission alleged that Google imposed licensing conditions for Android that favoured Google products and apps, such as Chrome and Google Play.

Phonemakers were also prevented from running competing operating systems based on the Android open-source code, and the company offered financial incentives for exclusively pre-installing Google Search on phones.

The commission argued the behaviour consolidated Google’s dominance in general search, hampered the ability of rival mobile browsers to compete with Chrome and hindered the development of other operating systems, which it worried would reduce consumer choice and stifle innovation.

When she announced the charges in 2016, Ms Vestager said: “We believe that Google’s behaviour denies consumers a wider choice of mobile apps and services and stands in the way of innovation by other players, in breach of EU antitrust rules.”

In November 2016, the company replied to the accusations and argued that Brussels had misunderstood the market when it did not include Apple as a rival to Android.

“The commission’s case is based on the idea that Android doesn’t compete with Apple’s iOS,” Google said in a statement by Kent Walker, its general counsel. “We don’t see it that way. We don’t think Apple does either. Or phonemakers. Or developers. Or users.”

EU enforcers excluded Apple as a competitor because its iOS operating system is not available to be licensed on rivals’ smartphones.

Google dismissed regulators’ concern that pre-installed and bundled Google apps — such as search and Chrome — lock out rivals, arguing that competition is only a download away. It also said it must control the software and provide basic apps to ensure Android works smoothly on different phones and tablets.

The company unveiled Android in 2007 as an open system to challenge closed systems including iPhone, BlackBerry and Nokia as a way to ensure Google’s services and ads did not lose out as internet use went mobile.

The European Commission and Google declined to comment.

Brussels is considering if the changes made to Google Shopping are sufficient to fix its concerns.

Additional reporting by Richard Waters

Screen time and your kids (Don’t worry, they’ll be fine)

June 3, 2018

I soon discovered that children and phones, and indeed screen time in general, is one of the most fraught topics of modern parenting. The Internet—ironically—is full of angsty, virtue-signaling essays from parents promising they will keep their children offline and off devices as long as possible. The essays follow a basic arc: The writer sees a toddler glued to an iPad, is tormented by this image, and waxes nostalgic about a lost era of childhood, which seems to have occurred on some day in August 1956. He or she declares that the children will henceforth spend all their free time climbing trees.

What I can’t find is the follow-up essay, written from the ER after one of the kids has broken a leg falling out of a tree. I’d like to know if that parent is still unwilling to hand over the phone to help pass the long hours of waiting. I rather doubt it.

Screen time turns out to be like a lot of things in parenting. If you’re the kind of parent who’s concerned about it, you shouldn’t worry. Your kids are going to be fine. Indeed, your kids, by virtue of having conscientious parents whose worries tend more toward iPhone use than to getting evicted, are among the luckiest people on the planet.

* * *

What you decide about screens doesn’t really matter. This might sound like heresy. Everybody has their stories. Haven’t I seen a fragged preschooler after a YouTube binge? Or there’s that time that youngster did something terrible after seeing something terrible on some terrible app I’ve never even heard of. The irony of this is that in our connected world, such tales spread so fast that they feel like data.

Children playing on phones.
Art credit: Gary Locke

Amidst the barrage of anecdotes, it’s no surprise that people worry about what media exposure “does” to kids. As with any broad topic, one can find certain studies pointing certain directions. There is some evidence that exposure to media violence leads to increased aggression. There is also some evidence that children who have devices in their rooms sleep a bit less than children who do not.

The problem with any broader inquiry or conclusion, though—and with attempts by official bodies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue guidelines—is that the world and children and screens are all complicated. Smartphones and tablets haven’t been around long enough for researchers to know much about their long-term implications and whether anything is materially different from the television era. Not all screen time is equal; chatting with Grandma via FaceTime is likely different from watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or playing Grand Theft Auto. And someone with a familial predisposition to eating disorders discovering how-to forums on crash dieting is something else again.

Also, it’s hard to control for all the variables in how children “turn out”—whatever that parental obsession means. (Is the best measurable endpoint graduating from an Ivy League university or avoiding jail time?) No one is randomly assigning some children to have zero tech exposure and others to watch DanTDM narrate video games for 18 hours straight. The few studies that have aimed to get parents to reduce screen time have achieved very little real reduction; harried parents trying to get through the day are unlikely to change their lives to satisfy researchers’ curiosity. “Research shows parents with more confidence and more resources are more likely to limit screen time,” says Anya Kamenetz, author of The Art of Screen Time, NPR’s lead education blogger, and a mother of two. “So any benefit we see from limited screen time is confounded by the other advantages those kids enjoy.”

Indeed, despite widespread worries since the dawn of the Internet era that children from less privileged backgrounds might miss out on the wonders of technology, the opposite turns out to be true.

To know what playing video games or spending hours on Instagram does to kids, we have to know what they might have done instead. If the other option is reading Proust, screen time is going to be less intellectually engaging. If the other option is that your child would wander around a dangerous, gang-plagued neighborhood while you work an extra shift to keep the family from falling behind on rent, letting the kids play Fortnite is probably the wise choice. And so that is the choice parents in more strained circumstances make.

There is much to be written about (and lamented about) inherited inequality. But in the world we live in, the broad demographic truth is that the children of educated professional-class people, the sort who fret about screen time (or gluten or organic farming practices), almost always “turn out” to be educated professionals themselves. Children from tougher backgrounds have a tougher time of it.

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It’s just not about the screens. As for the various crises ascribed to modern childhood and adolescence, some of which are pinned on smart phones and Internet access, these are likewise a mixed bag.

Teenagers have always been stupid, but it is true that modern technology enables young people to engage in idiocy that would have been tough to pull off in prior generations. Before iPhones and Snapchat, sharing naked photos of yourself or others with total strangers would have involved such a mind-boggling number of steps that anyone pondering it would have sobered up long before completing the proc­ess. Another issue: The Internet is forever. Future employers will have access to the I-hate-the-world screed a teen posts in a moment of romantic disappointment.

The Internet likewise hosts plenty of horrible things that adolescents might have trouble handling. It’s not just the obvious stuff (pornography); the recent van attack in Toronto by a man claiming membership in the “incel” (involuntarily celibate) community brought to light angles of misogyny I hadn’t even thought to worry my boys might learn about.

There is also evidence that mental-health issues are more widespread than in the past. A study published in Pediatrics in 2016 found that the percentage of adolescents reporting a major depressive episode in the previous 12 months rose from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.3 percent in 2014. “Modern kids don’t have as much ability to manage their behavior, thoughts, and emotions as in previous generations,” says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a parenting educator and author of The Good News About Bad Behavior. This decline in self-regulation skills has risen at the exact same time that kids have spent more time interacting through texts and social media, rather than in person. “It would be naïve to think there wasn’t a relationship,” she says.

But while any rise in depression or self-harm rates (including suicide) is worrying, even at these slightly higher rates, the vast majority of kids are doing all right. Indeed, plenty of indicators point in a positive direction since the smartphone era began. Teen pregnancy rates have plummeted 51 percent since 2007. The proportion of juveniles (ages 10-17) arrested annually has likewise dropped by more than 50 percent since 2007. With fewer young people experiencing these life-derailing events, the U.S. high school-graduation rate recently hit an all-time high.

There are many factors at work here, but it would be equally naïve to think there isn’t a screen-time relationship, too: When teens spend more time interacting online, rather than in person, they may not learn all the subtleties of interpersonal interaction, and they may be able to access some wretched content, but they aren’t doing problematic things with each other’s physical bodies either.

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Very little in life is all good or all bad. Screens also enable some really cool things—aside from your reading this essay because a friend posted a link on her Facebook page. “If we are so ready to ascribe negative effects to smartphones, we should be willing to consider the positive benefits of young people having a place to explore and connect that is physically safe and to access resources,” says Kamenetz. Teens with disabilities, or any sorts of differences, can connect with more kids who are like them than they could find in smaller communities. Young people can showcase their creative and entrepreneurial activities in a way that was difficult before.

Even some of the things people most lament about screens—like video games—aren’t all bad or even a waste of time. My little boys sometimes set up their own playdates with friends, agreeing to be online at a certain time to play games together. This sense of agency is one of the things people claim screens diminish. The idea that “you can’t make a living playing video games” is also emphatically untrue in the era of YouTube. For my kids, all this has provided a great opportunity to talk about the concept of income streams. Mommy makes her living by advancing her personal brand across multiple channels. Quite possibly my children will too.

None of this is either/or. All those essays lamenting the loss of childhood seem to gloss over the fact that many of us born before 1982 still spent quite a bit of time watching TV. Beating Super Mario Bros. was one of my proudest childhood accomplishments. I climbed some trees, too.

Any parent who wants to limit or restrict access to screens should feel free to do so. Your house, your rules—just as some families let people wear shoes indoors and others don’t. Just recognize that it’s mostly about preferences rather than right-or-wrong answers.

My husband and I settled on a screen-time policy of letting the older children get one hour a day, total, across their existing non-phone devices, Monday through Thursday, and just not worrying about it too much on the weekends. This will be self-policed, which might sound unworkable and maybe will be, but I also realized that structural factors preclude hours of zoning out. Among a certain demographic, there’s only so much time available for screens anyway, even if they are ubiquitous. Most of us do make our children do their homework. I try not to “overschedule” my children—another meaningless bit of modern angst, right up there with gluten—but with four children, even if each kid does two things, that’s eight activities for the family. That means the option doesn’t exist to start watching old episodes of Survivor at 7 a.m. on weekends and continue until 10 p.m. My kids may like killing time as much as anyone else, but if I forbid screens at meals and also make them go off an hour before an enforced bedtime, there isn’t that much time available for the killing.

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So I see no point in worrying about the precise amount within that window. There are also family benefits to allowing some slack. If letting my 3-year-old watch Thomas the Tank Engine on my iPhone means we can all eat dinner out some Saturday night without screaming, so be it.

As for the 11-year-old and the iPhone? I realized that my fears of giving him access to the Internet were unfounded, because he already has access to it on numerous screens at home. While monitoring a phone might be more difficult than monitoring the home computer, I could demand the same access. I already keep him off the Kindle long enough to do his homework; I could likewise keep him off a slightly smaller screen. Many parents that we respect replied to our informal survey that they’d gotten their kids smartphones in sixth grade or whenever middle school started in their communities.

So all the signs pointed to my son’s getting an iPhone on his birthday. My lingering trepidation is far more mundane than any existential angst about childhood and whether my child might become addicted to the Internet. This is a boy who managed to lose his winter coat twice in one weekend. The odds of the smartphone disappearing are high enough that I would not wish to write us an insurance policy. In the end, we bought an older, cheaper model. If I see no reason to worry much about screen time, I also see no reason to have money disappear faster than a photo on Snapchat.

Twitter is as addictive and destructive as a drug

May 31, 2018

Why does anyone, anywhere, still tweet?

In a span of seconds, Roseanne Barr blew up her life this week, rage-tweeting racist and bigoted commentary.

Just one day later, the Philadelphia 76ers announced they were investigating their team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo amid allegations he operated five secret Twitter accounts to gossip about and gaslight his own players.

In April, leading NFL prospect Josh Allen’s entire future was imperiled hours before the draft when racist tweets he’d posted in high school resurfaced. (After hasty damage control, the Buffalo Bills picked Allen.)

If Instagram is the platform for presenting your fake enviable life and Facebook the hub of virtual friendship, Twitter is the repository of the id — the childish, brutal, needy, raw, unmediated id. It somehow brings out the worst of human nature, yet celebrities, athletes, politicians and journalists still use it.

People who already have public platforms somehow do not find this enough, somehow convinced by Twitter that every thought they have must be so brilliant, so original, it must be shared with the world.

By Maureen Callahan

May 31, 2018
New York Post

It’s usually not. Just ask Kanye, or his alter-ego Donald Trump.

“I was hacked,” said Anthony Weiner in 2011, denying — before admitting — that he’d tweeted a lewd photo of himself to a 21-year-old college student.

Weiner is now in federal prison for sexting with a 15-year-old girl.

“When a friend found [those posts] in December and sent them to me, I was stunned,” said MSNBC host Joy Reid in April, after homophobic statements on her Twitter feed surfaced. “Frankly, I couldn’t imagine where they’d come from or whose voice that was.”


It tells you something when Silicon Valley execs stay off the social media platforms they’ve engineered to manipulate and addict the rest of us. Steve Jobs famously limited screen time for his own children. Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter, has denied his kids iPads in favor of books. Bill Gates limited screen time for his children and didn’t allow them cell phones until they turned 14.

Twitter itself is only 12 years old. We haven’t even begun to understand the ways in which it’s changing us individually, politically, socially, morally, neurologically. That even the wealthy and powerful can be decimated by one digital utterance should alarm us all.

A 2012 study at Chicago University’s Booth Business School found that Twitter is more addictive than cigarettes, alcohol or caffeine. Participants reported the greatest “self-control failure rates” when it came to checking or posting tweets. In 2014, a study by market research company Neuro Insight found that Twitter users reported that they felt a high degree of “personal relevance” when tweeting — 51 percent, higher than with other social media platforms.

When ABC announced the “Roseanne” reboot in January, Barr herself said she couldn’t be trusted with her own Twitter account and that she’d turned it over to her adult children.

“I didn’t want it to overshadow the show,” she said.

Now Barr has lost millions of dollars: Her critically-acclaimed reboot canceled, re-runs dropped everywhere. Barr is a pariah, someone even Charlie Sheen feels comfortable criticizing — where else? — on Twitter.

“I apologize,” Barr tweeted at 7:28 am on May 29. “I am now leaving Twitter.”

Later that day, she was right back, blaming Ambien. That wasn’t the drug to blame.

FILED UNDER          

How Facebook and Google threaten public health – and democracy