The trouble knowing how much screen time is ‘OK’

A boy looks at a tabletImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption A Unicef review of research found digital technology can benefit some children

Concerns about the harm caused by "too much" screen time - particularly when it is spent on social media - are widespread. But working out what a "healthy" amount might be is far from easy.

Headlines rarely soothe nerves.

Apple's Tim Cook recently said he would not want his nephew on a social network, while child health experts wrote to Facebook warning excessive use of digital devices and social media "is harmful to children and teens".

There are many other such examples.

Some negative experiences on social media - like bullying, or becoming worried about how your appearance compares to others - can and do affect some children and young people.

However, this does not mean that technology use in general is harmful and it is difficult to make claims about how it will affect different people.

Indeed, some studies suggest that using social media can bring benefits, or have no effect on wellbeing at all.

An inquiry into the impact of social media and screen use on young people's health was announced this week by UK MPs, who hope to separate "understandable concerns from the hard evidence".

For now, anyone thinking about how much time using screens and social media is "OK" will ultimately have to make a personal judgement.

Image copyright Getty Images

Consider the picture painted by a Unicef review of existing research into the effects of digital technology on children's psychological wellbeing, including happiness, mental health and social life.

Rather than stating that social media was harmful, it suggested a more complex effect.

The Unicef report highlighted a 2017 study by my colleagues at the University of Oxford that examined 120,000 UK 15-year-olds.

Among those teenagers who were the lightest users, it was found that increasing the time spent using technology was linked to improved wellbeing - possibly because it was important for keeping up friendships.

In contrast, among the heaviest users of technology, any increase in time was linked to lower levels of wellbeing.

The researchers suggested that for those teens, technology use might get in the way of taking part in other important activities.

The point at which the use of technology flips from having a positive effect to a negative effect was different for each category at which the researchers looked.

For example, more than two hours of smartphone use on a weekday, and more than four hours on a weekend day, was linked to lower wellbeing.

This effect, however, was small and only predicted 1% of a teenager's wellbeing.

The researchers suggested that the positive effect of regularly eating breakfast, or getting a proper night's sleep, was three times stronger.

Overall, the Unicef study suggested that some screen time could be good for children's mental wellbeing.

"Digital technology seems to be beneficial for children's social relationships," it said. The impact on physical activity levels, however, was "inconclusive".

Image copyright Getty Images

Similar trends for technology's effects on wellbeing were found in a subsequent study among large numbers of teenagers in the US.

However, the researchers warned that social media and technology use negatively affects teenage wellbeing.

The findings made headlines.

One of the authors, professor of psychology Jean Twenge, suggested "excessive" use of devices was the problem.

But again, the effects were small, with the positive effects of exercise being more significant.

In contrast to the authors of the Oxford study, Dr Twenge recommends less screen time for children.

"Half an hour, an hour a day, that seemed to be the sweet spot for teen mental health in terms of electronic devices," she said.

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A broader look at evidence provided by some other high quality studies again suggests the story is not clear-cut.

An early study in 2013 looked at how the television and video game habits of 11,000 UK five-year-olds affected them two years later.

It is one of few studies actually tracing the effects of technology over time.

It suggested that, compared with children who watched one hour of television or less on a weekday, a small increase in conduct problems was seen among those who watched more than three hours each day.

Playing electronic games, however, was not seen as leading to a greater risk of hyperactivity, or friendship or emotional problems.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parents will need to use their own judgement on how much screen time is "OK"

So how much time should we, or our children, spend looking at screens?

It is difficult to be precise as different people spend time online in such different ways.

For example, someone enjoying their time chatting with friends is using social media very differently to someone worrying about their own life as they flick through contacts' photos.

It appears to be the case that much of the debate about social media oversimplifies the reality.

A useful comparison might be with sugar.

Broadly speaking, people agree that excessive amounts of sugar can be bad for your health.

But the effect it might have can depend on many factors, from the type of sugar - fruit, or refined; to the person - athlete, or diabetic; and the amount - one gram, or many.

We would not readily trust anyone who claims to predict how someone is affected by consuming one gram of sugar.

The same could be said for social media usage: the outcomes depend on so many factors that only very crude predictions are possible.

Research about social media can sometimes help us navigate the debate, but concrete evidence does not yet exist.

This situation could improve significantly as more research is conducted in the coming years.

But for now, we will need to rely on our own judgements to decide about just how much time we - and our children - spend on social media.

About this piece

This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC from an expert working for an outside organisation.

Amy Orben is researching the effects of social media on human relationships at the University of Oxford. Follow her @OrbenAmy

Edited by Duncan Walker

Is Uber selling its Southeast Asia business to Grab?


If you read the tech press, you might have seen reports that Uber is pursuing a sale in Southeast Asia that would see Grab, its Singapore-headquartered rival valued at $6 billion, acquire Uber’s business in the region.

Rumors of such a tie-in have been rife for a while. Uber sold its China business in exactly such an arrangement in 2016, and it made a similar exit from Russia last year. In both cases, the firm’s motivation was to purportedly shape up for a potential IPO by offloading loss-making units that had lost the local market.

Why not, then, extend that into Southeast Asia and sell to Grab?

There is competition.

Reliable data is hard to come by, but it is fairly widely accepted that Uber, once the leader in Southeast Asia, has dropped behind Grab across the region as a whole, while both companies trial local startup Go-Jek — a unicorn itself, too — in Indonesia, the only market Go-Jek operates in.

There are challenges.

Despite a cumulative population that exceeds six billion people, Southeast Asia’s ride-sharing business did just $5.1 billion last year, according to estimates from a report authored by Google and investment firm Temasek. Uber is not expected to be profitable in the region “in the near future,” CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said last year.

There is the motivation.

Uber and Grab share a common investor in SoftBank. The Japanese firm first backed Grab back in 2014, and it recently pumped in $2 billion in fresh capital alongside China’s Didi Chuxing — the company that bought Uber China and, by virtue of that deal, is also an Uber stockholder. SoftBank, of course, secured a much-publicized investment in Uber in January.

Pitting two of its portfolio together in a loss-making market probably doesn’t make sense to SoftBank at this point.

Someone, somewhere, seems very keen to make a deal happen, and so we have the reports.

Last week, CNBC cited two people “with knowledge of the matter” who said that Uber “is preparing to sell Southeast Asia unit to Grab.”

The news was widely re-reported by a number of other media. But if you skip down to the second line of the original CNBC article, the transaction seems less definitive that the title suggests.

“No deal has been reached yet, and the timing of any such deal is uncertain,” CNBC reporter Alex Sherman wrote.

Uber and Grab both declined to comment on the report when we asked.

The Grab office in Singapore

The deal can make sense in financial terms, as above, but in practice there are certainly some question marks.

Uber may have fallen behind Grab, but it still has the brand. Uber invented ride-hailing, and it can continue to maintain a sizable market share, if not close the gap with some investment.

The word Uber is already a verb to many people, such is the company’s profile, and that isn’t just limited to the English language. There’s a huge amount of consumer awareness that Uber trades on, even when its competitors push hard with discounts, marketing and other strategies, is very much alive in Southeast Asia.

The market in the region is tipped to grow massively.

The same Google-Temasek report noted that the ride-hailing market in Southeast Asia has grown four-fold since 2015 and it is tipped to reach $20.1 billion by 2025. More generally, Southeast Asia is now the world’s third-largest region for internet users — with more people online than the entire U.S. population — with upwards of 3.8 million people coming online for the first time each month.

It might be hasty for Uber to retreat at this time. Certainly, the chips are down and things have been better, but the game is far from won as it was in China, where Uber had little mainstream recognition and was spending over $1 billion just to try to keep up with Didi.

There hasn’t been much of a reaction to the reports from Uber, but this week Khosrowshahi — who was in India as part of his first Asia tour with Uber — made a series of bullish comments that seemed to reaffirm a commitment to Southeast Asia, according to Reuters.

“We expect to lose money in Southeast Asia and expect to invest aggressively in terms of marketing, subsidies etc,” Khosrowshahi told reporters in New Delhi, adding there is huge potential in the region thanks to a big population and fast internet user growth.

You could, of course, offer a counter argument that Khosrowshahi is playing hard to get or making negotiations with Grab tougher. But the Uber CEO also pointed out to press that Uber is just one shareholder and thus its aims and objective don’t represent the path that the company will take.

From Reuters again:

Khosrowshahi said SoftBank is an investor but Uber, which has a valuation of around $68 billion, will take any final decisions along with the board on mergers and partnerships.

There has certainly been some suspicion that the leaks may be coming from the investor side of Uber/Grab, given the benefits that consolidation might bring. The fact that these leaks have also intensified since SoftBank became interested in an Uber investment, certainly gives credence to that theory.

Indeed, SoftBank board member Rajeev Misra — who joined the Uber board following the investment — told the Financial Times that Uber should focus on Western markets and cut its losses in emerging regions.

Is SoftBank the source of these new leaks? You can draw your own conclusions.

So, while a deal might make some sense on paper, reports of an imminent acquisition seem wide of the mark. That said, this is the ride-hailing industry, and anything can happen.

Featured Image: ANTHONY WALLACE/Getty Images

Nissan and DeNA will begin testing a self-driving taxi service in Japan next month


Nissan Motor and DeNA announced today that field tests of Easy Ride, the self-driving taxi service they developed together, will begin next month in Japan. This means that Nissan and DeNA now rank among Uber, Lyft, GM, Didi Chuxing and other companies pioneering self-driving taxi pilots, with the goal of launching commercially within the next few years.

DeNA is a Tokyo-headquartered online services company that is probably best known outside of Japan for a partnership with Nintendo that has produced mobile games like “Fire Emblem Heroes.” Its other services, however, encompass a wide range of verticals, including e-commerce, entertainment, healthcare, social networking and automotive tech. Two years ago, DeNA launched its first production vehicles with French autonomous vehicle company EasyMile, which are used to provide a driverless shuttle service called Robot Shuttle in Japanese cities.

Easy Ride’s first field test will begin on March 5 in Yokohama, the city to the south of Tokyo where Nissan’s global headquarters are located. Its self-driving taxis, which the companies call “robo-vehicles,” will take passengers along a 4.5 kilometer set route between the Yokohama World Porters shopping center and Nissan’s corporate complex. During the ride, passengers can try out Easy Ride’s concierge features by using a mobile app to ask for suggestions about local sightseeing destinations, which are then displayed on an in-car tablet screen, with coupons available for download. A remote monitoring center will oversee the cars during the field test and passengers will be asked after their ride to complete a survey about their experiences and how much they would be willing to pay for Easy Ride when it launches.

Nissan is one of several Japanese automakers that want to get self-driving vehicles on the road by the beginning of the next decade, motivated by the country’s aging population, which needs more transportation options, and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he wants self-driving vehicles to help with transportation during the games and also serve as a showcase for Japan’s manufacturing and technological prowess. The government is currently in the process of drawing up laws meant to make the process of testing and commercializing autonomous vehicle systems more efficient.

Nissan and DeNA say they plan to launch full service of Easy Ride in the early 2020s, after a limited rollout. The fields tests will be used to “develop service designs for driverless environments, expanded service routes, vehicle distribution logic, pick-up/drop-off processes and multilingual support,” the companies said in a release.

The taxi industry in major Japanese cities like Tokyo is heavily regulated and cab drivers are required to have special licenses, so companies there must focus on other services instead of ride-sharing. For example, earlier this week Sony announced that it will launch an AI-based taxi-calling app, while Uber chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi said the company wants to form partnerships with a taxi companies to put new life into its Japanese expansion strategy.

Featured Image: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Angry Birds maker craters on bad guidance, losing half its market value


Angry Birds maker Rovio’s stock price tanked cratered after their latest quarterly earnings report painted a dismal future for the game maker. The stock is down 50 percent after the company sent investors a warning in their latest earnings report that revenues were likely to suffer in 2018.

Despite a strong over reliance on the Angry Birds brand, which seems to have been integrated into any and every licensing deal possible over the past few years, the 15-year-old Rovio is still making moves. The company had $365 million (297.2 million euros) in revenues in 2017, a 55 percent increase over the previous year as the game-maker made more money off of its titles and brand licensing deals.

The strong reaction today was the result of investors feeling misled by the company’s optimism in past future guidance. Rovio, which is listed on Finland’s main stock exchange in Helsinki, forecast that its 2018 revenues would likely sink below the previous year and profits may dip as well as user acquisition costs have gotten higher and the future has become more uncertain.

Game developers that strike it rich off a single title have historically seemed to have a rough go as public companies. The company was valued at $1 billion preceding its IPO late last year, but the goings have been a bit rough with its market cap now sitting below $500 million.

Featured Image: John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images

Apple devices are butt dialing 911 from its refurbishing facility – 20 times per day


Since October, emergency responders in Elk Grove and Sacramento County, California have received over 1,600 false alarm 911 calls coming from an Apple repair and refurbishing site in the area.

It’s not clear if the calls are coming from Apple’s iPhones or Watches but each time a call originates out of the Elk Grove facility, there’s no one on the other end of the line and it’s gumming up the emergency response system in the area, draining resources and possibly slowing down response teams in actual emergencies.

“The times when it’s greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call,” police dispatcher Jamie Hudson told Sacramento CBS Local News, which first reported these incidents.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department says it has also received these false calls, telling CBS Local dispatchers sometimes heard technicians in the background.

iPhones and Apple Watches are easily triggered to call emergency response services with an accidentally long touch of a button. iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus call up the SOS emergency service by holding down the side button and one of the volume buttons for an extended period. The Watch triggers a call to 911 just by pressing and holding the side button.

Though Apple Watches and iPhones make it easier for individuals to get hold of 911 dispatchers quickly, the Watch’s accidental calls issue has been a known problem for a while now. In early 2017, Tolland County, Connecticut emergency responders reported a series of accidental calls coming from Apple Watches in the Tolland and Hartford areas. Earlier this month, a dispatcher in Ottawa County, Michigan told Newsweek his local branch had been receiving accidental butt dials from Apple Watches at least 10 times a day.

Apple has told CBS Local it was aware of the problem and was “working closely with local law enforcement to investigate the cause and ensure this doesn’t continue.”

We’ve reached out to Apple to find out what specific measures it is taking to stop these false alarm calls from causing havoc on the emergency systems in the area and possibly slowing down responders from getting to a real life and death situation. So far, we have yet to hear back but will be sure to update you when we do.

Apple devices are butt dialing 911 from its refurbishing facility – 20 times per day


Since October, emergency responders in Elk Grove and Sacramento County, California have received over 1,600 false alarm 911 calls coming from an Apple repair and refurbishing site in the area.

It’s not clear if the calls are coming from Apple’s iPhones or Watches but each time a call originates out of the Elk Grove facility, there’s no one on the other end of the line and it’s gumming up the emergency response system in the area, draining resources and possibly slowing down response teams in actual emergencies.

“The times when it’s greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call,” police dispatcher Jamie Hudson told Sacramento CBS Local News, which first reported these incidents.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department says it has also received these false calls, telling CBS Local dispatchers sometimes heard technicians in the background.

iPhones and Apple Watches are easily triggered to call emergency response services with an accidentally long touch of a button. iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus call up the SOS emergency service by holding down the side button and one of the volume buttons for an extended period. The Watch triggers a call to 911 just by pressing and holding the side button.

Though Apple Watches and iPhones make it easier for individuals to get hold of 911 dispatchers quickly, the Watch’s accidental calls issue has been a known problem for a while now. In early 2017, Tolland County, Connecticut emergency responders reported a series of accidental calls coming from Apple Watches in the Tolland and Hartford areas. Earlier this month, a dispatcher in Ottawa County, Michigan told Newsweek his local branch had been receiving accidental butt dials from Apple Watches at least 10 times a day.

Apple has told CBS Local it was aware of the problem and was “working closely with local law enforcement to investigate the cause and ensure this doesn’t continue.”

We’ve reached out to Apple to find out what specific measures it is taking to stop these false alarm calls from causing havoc on the emergency systems in the area and possibly slowing down responders from getting to a real life and death situation. So far, we have yet to hear back but will be sure to update you when we do.

Apple devices are butt dialing 911 from its refurbishing facility – 20 times per day


Since October, emergency responders in Elk Grove and Sacramento County, California have received over 1,600 false alarm 911 calls coming from an Apple repair and refurbishing site in the area.

It’s not clear if the calls are coming from Apple’s iPhones or Watches but each time a call originates out of the Elk Grove facility, there’s no one on the other end of the line and it’s gumming up the emergency response system in the area, draining resources and possibly slowing down response teams in actual emergencies.

“The times when it’s greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call,” police dispatcher Jamie Hudson told Sacramento CBS Local News, which first reported these incidents.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department says it has also received these false calls, telling CBS Local dispatchers sometimes heard technicians in the background.

iPhones and Apple Watches are easily triggered to call emergency response services with an accidentally long touch of a button. iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus call up the SOS emergency service by holding down the side button and one of the volume buttons for an extended period. The Watch triggers a call to 911 just by pressing and holding the side button.

Though Apple Watches and iPhones make it easier for individuals to get hold of 911 dispatchers quickly, the Watch’s accidental calls issue has been a known problem for a while now. In early 2017, Tolland County, Connecticut emergency responders reported a series of accidental calls coming from Apple Watches in the Tolland and Hartford areas. Earlier this month, a dispatcher in Ottawa County, Michigan told Newsweek his local branch had been receiving accidental butt dials from Apple Watches at least 10 times a day.

Apple has told CBS Local it was aware of the problem and was “working closely with local law enforcement to investigate the cause and ensure this doesn’t continue.”

We’ve reached out to Apple to find out what specific measures it is taking to stop these false alarm calls from causing havoc on the emergency systems in the area and possibly slowing down responders from getting to a real life and death situation. So far, we have yet to hear back but will be sure to update you when we do.