Entrepreneurs

Ex-Apple exec: Thanks to Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, we're addicted to tech — and ‘they are the only ones’ who can fix it

Tony Fadell
Craig Barritt | Getty Images
Tony Fadell

A former top Apple executive and serial tech entrepreneur, Tony Fadell, says thanks to Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter, consumers are addicted to technology — and those same big tech companies are "the only ones" who can treat consumers from that addiction.

Fadell, who made his case via a 10-installment Twitter storm on Monday, tells CNBC Make It via Twitter that, though these consequences were unintended, the companies "are in the position to give us the info to help us understand our usage habits & the ability to control/monitor them w/ tools. Now it's time to fix…"

He also acknowledged via Twitter the irony of sharing his criticisms on one of the platforms he was blaming.

Fadell says on his own LinkedIn page that he was an "advisor to the CEO" at Apple from November 2008 to March of 2010, during which time Steve Jobs was the CEO. (Jobs resigned in August 2011.) Also, Fadell was the Senior Vice President in charge of the iPod division from Jan 2001 through March 2010. He has been called one of the "fathers of the iPod" for his work on the personal music player. Fadell also founded and was the CEO of home regulation system Nest and the marketing company Fuse.

Fadell recommends big tech turn over usage data to third parties who can build apps to monitor the amount of time being spent looking at screens.

Read the salient points:

The comments from Fadell come as consumer addiction to technology is top of mind.

Two prominent investors in Apple — Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or Calstrs — sent a letter to the Cupertino-based tech behemoth on Saturday pointing out the extent to which young people are addicted to their smartphones. (Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, or Calstrs own $2 billion worth of Apple stock.)

"More than 10 years after the iPhone's release, it is a cliché to point out the ubiquity of Apple's devices among children and teenagers, as well as the attendant growth in social media use by this group. What is less well known is that there is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, this may be having unintentional negative consequences," the letter says.

Apple has responded to the letter. Since 2008, parental controls have been available for many Apple products, the company points out.

"Apple has always looked out for kids, and we work hard to create powerful products that inspire, entertain, and educate children while also helping parents protect them online. We lead the industry by offering intuitive parental controls built right into the operating system," Apple says in a statement shared with CNBC Make It.

"We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them. We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers' expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids."

Apple did not respond to the claim that adults are also addicted to their technology.

Twitter declined to comment.

Facebook and Google had not responded to request for comment by the time this story was published.

Fadell pressed Apple to respond to the claim for adults, too.

Indeed, Adam Alter, an associate professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University, wrote a book, "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked," making the case that in addition to kids, adults are addicted to technology.

"We're biologically prone to getting hooked on these sorts of experiences. If you put someone in front of a slot machine, their brain will look qualitatively the same as when they take heroin. If you're someone who compulsively plays video games — not everyone, but people who are addicted to a particular game — the minute you load up your computer, your brain will look like that of a substance abuser," Alter tells the New York Times. "I find it interesting that the late Steve Jobs said in a 2010 interview that his own children didn't use iPads."

Alter uses himself as an example: "I'm addicted to email. I can't stop checking it. I can't go to bed at night if I haven't cleared my inbox. I'll keep my phone next to my bed, much as I try not to," says Alter.

"The technology is designed to hook us that way. Email is bottomless. Social media platforms are endless. Twitter? The feed never really ends. You could sit there 24 hours a day and you'll never get to the end. And so you come back for more and more," he tells the Times.

And according to Fadell's tweets, it's not hard to implement tools that would allow consumers to moderate their usage. He knows it, and so does Apple, he says.

This story has been updated to include a response from Tony Fadell and Twitter.

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