Home » Ebooks » Maybe It’s Time To Regulate Gadgets And Apps Like Cigarettes

Maybe It’s Time To Regulate Gadgets And Apps Like Cigarettes

27 January 2018

From Fast Company:

Tech companies put a lot of work into designing their products to be “sticky.” That’s investor deck speak, but everyone knows what sticky really means: addictive.

While that may be good for the companies and their funders, a growing body of research is showing that it’s not so good for us users, and especially not for teens or kids. As the problem of tech abuse becomes better understood, tech companies may need to start measuring success by the quality of the time users spend with their products, not just the quantity. Discussions about the dangers of personal technology have been around a long time, but in the bubble of Silicon Valley it’s not a ready topic of conversation. People would rather talk about big ideas and their world-changing implications than about the unsavory by-products and unintended consequences that might come with them.

. . . .

[George Soros] went on a tirade, comparing Google and Facebook to resource-extraction companies (“Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social-media companies exploit the social environment.”) and to casinos (they “deliberately engineer addiction into the services they provide.”)

And: “Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age,” Soros said. “Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy.” Soros said now that it’s becoming harder to find brand-new users, social media companies have no choice but to please investors by demanding more of our time.

. . . .

On Wednesday Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said Facebook should be regulated like a tobacco product. “I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry,” Benioff said on CNBC’s Squawk Alley. “Here’s a product: Cigarettes. They’re addictive, they’re not good for you,” Benioff said. For someone of Benioff’s stature and reputation, this is a bombshell.

Earlier this month, a pair of Apple’s institutional investors raised the flag on adolescent smartphone abuse in January. The two investors, JANA Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, asked Apple to do something about the unhealthy amount of time kids spend with their iDevices (and the apps within). Apple should make sure its youngest customers grow up to be healthy adult Apple customers.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG would probably not qualify as a free speech absolutist, but he’s pretty close.

People who want governments to regulate information that others voluntarily read or view worry PG. There is a definite history of slippery slopes and dictators in these sorts of movements.

In this context, addiction is a useful tool for those who don’t like what other people are reading or viewing. If some individuals really like reading or viewing particular content that critics don’t like, those people must be “addicted” and the only solution for this “addiction” is immediate government action.

This argument assumes government can and will do this job effectively today and into the distant future.

This argument also assumes that all future governments will use such powers in proper and beneficial ways.

In the United States, large numbers of people of certain political persuasions were vociferously critical of the actions of President Barack Obama and his government in the exercise of government power.

Now, large numbers of people of different political persuasions are vociferously critical of the actions of President Donald Trump and his government in the exercise of government power.

PG suggests that a government that has the power to regulate Facebook and its econtent may well also have the power to regulate Amazon and its ebooks.


45 Comments to “Maybe It’s Time To Regulate Gadgets And Apps Like Cigarettes”

  1. Right.
    Because the government doesn’t nanny people enough.

    As for addictions: I’m addicted to SF&F in all its forms. And proud of it. No narrowminded busybody is going to make me change.

  2. For a long time, some people chose what they wanted to read and listen to. Now they want to choose what I read and listen to.

    I can’t think of a single reason to comply. I can think of many reasons to to oppose and ridicule them.

  3. Unless it is an immediate call to violence, such as whipping up a mob to go attack someone right then and there, speech should be free, popular or otherwise. Especially speech the government deems unpopular. Germany has begun regulating social media content. The US does not need to follow suit.

    In my opinion, yes, some people can get addicted to the ‘Net. I can get addicted to certain video games very easily, so I avoid them. The government should not make the games illegal to protect me from them.

  4. Thin wedge. Next they’ll want to regulate who can write what when and how.

    There’s a reason my stories use ‘think of the children’ as a lesson of what ‘not’ to do.

    Education will do far more than any regulation ever could. In other words (for the OP and similar id10ts) stop trying to childproof the world and start world proofing those kids!

    Of course that requires teaching them to think for themselves and to question all things – which makes them harder to ‘control’ – but then they’d see facebook and the 24 hour news (and so much more) for the advertising gimmicks they really are …

  5. Yeah let’s be real careful about content regulation. Real careful. Down that road is tyranny.

    • Soros needs to try and at least pick one side in the debate. He reportedly thinks Trump is an evil dictator who benefited from fake stories on Facebook and also wants Trump’s Administration to regulate the stories on Facebook.

      For the record, I don’t think Trump nor Obama, nor anyone else in government can legitimately regulate this stuff, but then, like most here, I think free speech is a good idea and also protected by the Constitution.

      • Ever since he served as a teenage kapo, Soros has never met a real dictator whom he didn’t like. So actually, his dislike is evidence that Trump is no dictator.

        Soros is just angry that he didn’t invest in enough computer companies, and that people are spending money on their own fun.

    • But that is the whole point.

      Oh, they don’t think of it of tyranny but that is exactly what they want: conformity or else.
      Zero tolerance.
      Their values over all others.

      The very definition of tyranny.

      “Come the revolution everybody will eat strawberry shortcake and LIKE IT!!!”

  6. Teetering at the edge of the slippery slope, actually. One foot over.

    Nothing should be regulated, except to keep it from those actually unable to make an informed choice (whether those people are willing to get that information and act upon it is not anyone else’s problem, either). Consequences should be applied if the use of whatever causes a problem for some other person – and for causing that problem, not for the use itself.

    Note that the telephone is addictive for some (my sister in law, for one). Television is addictive. Fast food is addictive. READING at all can be addictive (no matter whether you consume it as a formerly living tree, or as electrons).

  7. Oh really guys. Can no one see the elephant in the room? We are ALL adults. Well educated, over educated, relatively well-to-do adults. And quite a few of us date from an era in which the new mobile phone looked like a brick and weighed about the same.

    /We/ did not grow up addicted. /We/ have the capacity to choose, and choose well. Children do not. Even young adults in their very late teens have issues with impulse control. That is why insurance companies [here in Australia at least] hike up the premiums of all drivers under the age of 25. That also happens to be the reason so many of the fatalities on the road occur in that age group.

    By this argument, we shouldn’t attempt to protect our children at all, especially from themselves. Or, heaven forbid, from companies that often target the young because they’re easy prey.

    As a mother and former teacher, I will put the safety and well-being of children ahead of any theoretical good that accrues from unfetter, unlimited, ‘free speech’ any day.

    Adults can take their chances, and good luck to them.

    • As a parent, I don’t want some third party telling me how to “protect” MY children from devices or content. Danger to my children has to pass a pretty high bar before the government has a right to be involved. Perhaps it’s different for them what lives in the Queen’s dominions…

      • No offence, but are you implying that there are no protections for children mandated by government that you agree with??

        Surely the requirement that children go to school is one such protection?
        What about vaccinations?
        What about anti-bullying in schools?
        Or Lollypop people at school crossings?
        Oh wait…what about the school crossings themselves?
        Or the requirement for children in cars to wear seatbelts?
        Or social workers who protect children from abuse, or at least try to?

        The social contract itself is based on the idea that we voluntarily give up certain ‘freedoms’ in exchange for the protections afforded to all of us by governments. Why the ingrained distrust?

        • The american social contract is, first and foremost, about limiting government power over the public. Which is why attempts to erode freedom by ceding control over our lives is fiercely resisted.

          And nothing is resisted as strongly as thought controls.

          School crossings, etc, are security matters, not about thought or speech. They are irrelevant to a discussion about ideas and communication of same.

          In this particular iteration of the never-ending debate you need to look past the smoke screen. The objective isn’t “protecting” children at all but rather establishing control over the content of the targeted communication channels.

          It is about “unapproved” ideas circulating which is precisely what the First Amendment was established to protect. And do note that the US is practically the only nation whose social contract clearly and unambiguously guarantees this. In writing.

          This is our social contract:


          Entire books and centuries of legal wranglings have debated its subtleties and limits. It’s become a bit frayed from time to time as one orthodoxy or another seeks to end free thought but so far they have always failed.

          (And my joke about the Second Amendment is not totally a joke. There is a significant portion of the population ready and willing to step up to defend the Bill of Rights from a true tyrant. Smaller groups act up from time to time over lesser “tyrannies”. Blood has flowed protecting those rights. Starting with the Whiskey Rebellion and all the way to recent times. Some with fair grievances, some deluded, all dead serious.)

          This back door attack on social media is both an attack on freedom of expression *and* freedom of association. Making it doubly offensive.

          As I said before, it will go nowhere.

          • I knew at least some of that, but I thank you for the clarification. Nevertheless, my original question still stands, precisely because..

            ‘..And do note that the US is practically the only nation whose social contract clearly and unambiguously guarantees this. In writing.’

            As a fairly proud Australian I can say categorically that my country isn’t some backwater dictatorship because we don’t have these freedoms enshrined in our constitution. Curiously, neither do most of the other Western countries of the world. Yet they are no more oppressed than the people of the US.

            By contrast, it appears that all the Western democracies went through a period of anti-communist hysteria during the McCarthy era in the US.

            Yet surely the right to hold and express a political opinion different to the ‘norm’ is precisely the kind of freedom of speech that is enshrined in your Constitution?

            We all think our own home is the best. If we don’t, we leave. Nevertheless, I believe there is room in a polite, respectful discourse to question assumptions, and as an outsider it seems to me that the assumption that Govt /shouldn’t/ be trusted is very deep in the American psyche. Why?

            • Your government gives you a lot of freedom of expression?
              Great. Governments all over are free to provide as much freedom as they choose to allow, whether it is mandated or not.

              My point is the US federal government doesn’t get to choose: they are *obligated* to respect the civil liberties. Over and over presidents and congresses have tried to squeeze the citizenry and been forced back by the rule of law. Between the Bill of Rights and Separation of powers there are very strong constraints on what the feds can do to us.

            • Terrence P OBrien

              as an outsider it seems to me that the assumption that Govt /shouldn’t/ be trusted is very deep in the American psyche. Why?

              Because we want to govern ourselves as much as possible, and we see how governments have behaved all through history. We see how they behave today. We can observe people being charged with crimes for speaking in opposition to some philosophy in some western nations.

              We also have no reason to follow the lead of other nations in restricting speech. We think those nations have less freedom than we do, and don’t want to be like them.

              • Thanks for your candour. As a representative of one of the nations you don’t want to be like, I’ll just say that my personal experience is different to yours.

                From a philosophical perspective, there’s ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’, but that is probably a discussion for another day.

                • Terrence P OBrien

                  From a philosophical perspective, there’s ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’, but that is probably a discussion for another day.

                  Could be. But from the perspective of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, there is a freedom to speak, but no freedom from speech. However, there is no obligation to listen or read.

                  I have no insight into your personal experience, so I don’t know how it compares to mine.

    • How you raise your kids, the bounds you set for them or not, is for *you* to decide.
      Not for handwringing busybodies with crowd control agendas.

      This is not a new debate.
      In decades past it’s been rock n roll, disco lyrics, video games. Now it’s apps and social networks.
      Tipper Gore got beat back.
      The same Will Happen to these fools.

      Not going to happen in tbe USA.
      Other countries, with other social contracts can do as they please.

      But not in the US.
      First Amendment trumps busybodies.
      If by some cataclysm it doesn’t…well, that’s what the Second Amendment is for. 😉
      Jefferson and co had exactly this in mind when they drafted the bill of rights.

    • Look at it this way:

      – TVs have had parental controls since the 80’s.
      – The very first XBOX had parental controls. Sony and Nintendo followed eventually. On the XBOX kids not only can’t play inappropriate games or videos, they can’t even see them.
      – Windows has had parental controls for ages, Android and iOS added them more recently but by now every single phone, tablet, and ebook reader has them. Amazon has particularly good ones.

      The built-in controls on most will let parents set usage quotas. The best devices allow settings by day of the week and time of day. This is a *solved* “problem”.

      The issue is the settings are called parental controls and not government controls or committee of correspondence control or political officer controls.
      Parental controls.
      It is up to the parents to enable them and manage them based on *their* values and their kids maturity.

      That is what freedom is about.

    • As a mother and former teacher, I will put the safety and well-being of children ahead of any theoretical good that accrues from unfetter, unlimited, ‘free speech’ any day.

      Giving government authority over what kids can read and listen to is a disservice to kids. Using kids as an excuse for the government telling us all what we can read and listen to is folly.

      As a citizen, I will put the responsibility to choose media for the kids on the parents, not teachers, and not government. That’s why God made parents.

      • “Giving government authority over what kids can read and listen to is a disservice to kids.”

        Yet isn’t that what school is all about?

        • No, actually, it isn’t.
          Schools may require you to read something, but they are not supposed to forbid you from reading something on your own time.

          • I know Wikipedia has to be taken with a grain of salt but this?

            ‘Between 1961 and 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book in high schools and libraries in the United States.[31] The book was banned in the Issaquah, Washington, high schools in 1978 as being part of an “overall communist plot”.[32] In 1981, it was both the most censored book and the second most taught book in public schools in the United States.’

            • What about it? It is almost certainly true.

              There are 50 states, dozens of regional cultures, and thousands of independent school districts. Each with their own idea of what is appropriate and what is obscene.

              In a continental nation of 300 million plus, it pays to give each other elbow room.

              Check this:


              It’s old but it explains regional cultures pretty well.

              • Also this:


                “In another unifying thesis about political culture that, like the Frontier Thesis, some have argued that Lockean liberalism is a central underlying explanation of American political culture. Notably, the political scientist Louis Hartz argued that the nation’s founding principles, which were largely drawn from Locke, created a new political culture that was unique to the United States. The nation “begins with Locke,” he wrote, and it “stays with Locke.” He found that Alexis de Tocqueville was first to recognize this when he saw that the nation was the first to create its own democratic future without having to endure revolution.”

            • Did you miss the “supposed to?”
              Also, it’s worth noting that, nine times out of ten, when a book is “banned” it’s simply not carried in the school library.

            • Terrence P OBrien

              Correct. Libraries are free to stock what they choose. There has always been lively discussion of exactly what the collections should contain.

              But note that one could walk into any bookstore in the nation and by a copy, and find it on the syllabus of zillions of high schools.

              Government never prohibited a single student from reading the book.

        • At the school where I teach, we assign readings to students, but do not block them from reading other books if they so choose. The only time I have recommended that a book be removed from the free-reading shelf, was because graphic descriptions of sexual torture are probably not appropriate for 10-12 year olds at a religious school to read without parental approval. (The book was from a major young-reader publisher and was about human trafficking and debt slavery in South Asia.)

          We do block certain internet sites, per federal law, and it is a problem at times because what the US federal government decides is inappropriate content and what is approved have no consistency. For example, some works of art (usually historical paintings) are blocked but viciously anti-Semitic images from Der Sturmer are easily available. Some foreign governments’ official web-sites are blocked but Stormfront is not.

          In my opinion, if that is an example of how the US and state governments are going to regulate apps and devices, then it will be less than useless as far as “protecting” children. Protecting children is what parents and guardians and older relatives and siblings are supposed to do, not the US federal government.

        • Yet isn’t that what school is all about?

          No. Schools don’t prevent kids from reading what they choose. A kid can buy a book, and a parent can give him a book.

      • My first reaction to that is: When you let the government decide what kids will and will not see/read/watch, etc, they’re going to grow up thinking that’s a normal thing for a government to do. And the next generation slips further down the slope.

        NO. THANK. YOU.

        • We are actually in a period when what kids (and everyone else) see is relatively uncensored. Remember the Hayes Commission of the 1930s? And pre-cable TV? I would say we are trudging up the slippery slope, not sliding down. Both erotica and Christian literature are doing pretty well.

          The fact the proposals like this one are so vigorously discussed is a good sign. Facts are much easier to find today than they were fifty years ago.

  8. I’m feeling like I have to defend myself. I spent the better part of my career trying to build sticky applications. I remember arguing with my boss 30 years ago that Lotus 1-2-3 was the ultimate sticky application because it made so many hard tasks easy. My argument was that once you use Lotus (or Visicalc or Excel) you never want to use paper and pencil for that kind of work again. That was the stickiness that I always strove for. I suppose I viciously preyed upon the notion people who became more productive would never choose to become less productive.

    And I will defend my brethren in gaming and other forms of software. We build it to satisfy needs. The need may be for recreation, connection, communication, or something else. Doing the best we can to satisfy those needs makes an application sticky. Do a poor job and nobody wants it, nobody keeps it. Do a good job and people fight to keep it.

    Some people always use things to their disadvantage. You can over drug, over eat, over drink, over game, over almost anything. I subscribe to the disease theory of addiction. Opiates, for example, are not inherently bad. Oxycodone put me back to work when I had a severe back injury, and fentanyl was a life saver when I was recovering from heart surgery. I consider opiates a blessing. It was no life choice that I did not fall victim to the disease of addiction. I never thought about it, never made a conscious choice. I was just lucky not to contract the disease.

    Some people fall victim to addictions to some forms of technology. Treat the disease, don’t ban the application.

    • Nailed it.
      Good applications are sticky.
      It’s the crapware people can’t wait to get away from.

    • Heh. Some people succumb to analysis paralysis with spreadsheets. I might have gone that way myself, if the floppy (and it was a floppy) hadn’t been accidentally folded in half during a move.

      Now, mandatory rehab centers for PowerPoint addicts – that notion I could get behind…

  9. Sadly this discussion has turned to freedom of speech and/or other freedoms, but the original article is talking about two quite different things:

    1. Technology that is /designed/ to be addictive – like slot machines, and
    2. The physiological effects of being addicted to both the medium [smartphone] and the apps it contains. On children.

    ‘Developmental behavioral pediatrician Jenny Radesky says kids are especially susceptible to harm from digital media because their brains are still developing and they respond to the content differently than other people. “Children are still developing their executive functions–their ability to self-regulate, plan out behavior, resist impulses, use their top-down cognitive controls to focus and complete tasks–so they are particularly susceptible to the novel enhancements (i.e., visual and sound effects, pop-ups), intermittent rewards, and persuasive design features of devices, apps, games, and online advertisements.” Radesky was one of the doctors who wrote the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for children’s digital media use.’

    To me, this reads like brainwashing of the very young. Mind control. Deliberate mind control.

    I’m sure you’ve all heard about brain plasticity. Well the brains of children and teens are much more plastic than those of adults. It’s physical.

    Should parents exercise parental control over smartphones, other devices and the apps they contain?

    Of course they should. But we’re not talking about an ideal world. We’re talking about a world in which peer pressure as well as the ‘addiction’ itself make children WANT these apps. No parent, no matter how well-intentioned can fight this war on their own.

    “Johnny has it. Why can’t I have it? Johnny’s Mom is nice. You’re mean.”

    I was a very well-intentioned parent. No junk food. No unhealthy lollies. No McDonalds. It worked okay until The Offspring started school. I lasted less than a year.

    Maybe all of you managed better than me. Maybe your kids weren’t caught up in any of the going fads and crazes. Maybe you exercised admirable parental control.

    But most parents can’t and don’t.

    In the real world, parents need help, and I don’t believe the world as we know it will implode if the tech companies are asked to stop maximizing profit and start taking some responsibility for the /intended/ effects of their products.

    • Parents already have all the help they need as long as they’re willing to *be* parents.

      There have always been neglectful parents that allow the kids to roam wild on the streets or use the TV as a babysitter. Today they let the kids run wild, unsupervised, on the internet and use digital gadgets as babysitters. Nothing new there. No reasonable amount of regulation will make bad parents into good parents. As long as parenting is an unregulated activity nothing will change.

      Just because bad parents don’t use the tools they are given does not constitute a problem that requires the rest of us to surrender any further civil liberties, which is how the debate ended up in First Amendment territory.

      You can’t idiot-proof software and you can’t idiot-proof society. Idiots are infinitely resourceful.

      Dig up the Darwin Awards for an endless string of examples.

    • Terrence P OBrien

      Sadly this discussion has turned to freedom of speech and/or other freedoms,

      There is nothing sad about it. It is a freedom of speech issue. I hope the issue is raised whenever someone advocates eliminating our freedoms

      Beyond speech, it does involves other freedoms. Freedom of the press protects the right to use technology to amplify and distribute one’s speech.

      Those who want to restrict our freedom of speech always tell us they are sincere in protecting something. They want to protect kids, protect people from being offended, protect us from hate speech, protect us from fake news.

      In the real world, parents may need hep, but the last place to find that help is government. The self-righteous of the world want to use government to control us, suppress what they don’t like, and use government to promote what they do like. We can find them everywhere. We definitely have them in the US. In other countries they suppress speech, and don’t like the freedoms we enjoy in the US. It’s a bad example.

      These people are a danger and should be opposed every time they tell us how they are only working for everyone’s welfare. They are promoting their own welfare at the expense of everyone else.

      I’m delighted these issues become discussion of freedom of speech because that indicates we won’t be fooled by what hides behind the rhetoric.

      • Interesting. Thank you for giving me an insight into how some Americans view the world.
        As the lone outsider, and lone female in this debate, I’ll have to concede defeat and bow out with as much grace as I can muster. There can be no meeting of minds on this issue.

        • Most of the world thinks Americans are weird. 🙂


          “Scottish political scientist Richard Rose noted most American historians endorse exceptionalism. He suggests these historians reason as follows:

          America marches to a different drummer. Its uniqueness is explained by any or all of a variety of reasons: history, size, geography, political institutions, and culture. Explanations of the growth of government in Europe are not expected to fit American experience, and vice versa. “

          • Yes. I used to think that Aussies and Americans were more similar than dissimilar, ‘cookies’ and ‘biscuits’ aside. But the cultural divide between our two countries is far deeper than I ever imagined. 🙁

            • What is the deepest specific cultural division?

            • Oh, we value most of the same things.
              (Vegemite aside.)
              The differences come from the weighing factors.

              Blame it on King George who taught us of the fickleness of rulers. 🙂

            • Funny, as a Brit I am totally with the Americans on this issue. So are many other Brits, though you wouldn’t know it to listen to our politicians or media.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.