'Greedy' companies profit from digital addiction despite health impact, summit hears

'Depression epidemic' among the negative affects of digital life that are not being addressed, top UN official tells World Government Summit

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - February 10, 2019: Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Sustainable Development Solutions Network speaks about Launching the Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report during day 1 at the World Government Summit. Sunday the 10th of February 2019 at Madinat, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Companies like Facebook need to move away from "greed" and do more for society, the World Government Summit in Dubai heard on Sunday.

During the launch of the Global Happiness and Well-being Policy report, the panel said that digital well-being is the next big challenge when it comes to global happiness.

Minister of Happiness and Well-being, Ohood Al Roumi, said that the way in which people interact with technology is a key factor affecting their personal happiness, with the main causes for concern being cyber bullying and addiction.

“We are looking at the best ways to tackle these issues because they affect people's relationship with other people," she said.

Jeffrey Sachs, sustainable development solutions network director at the United Nations, said that companies such as Facebook that profit from digital addiction had a moral obligation to provide better solutions to the problem.

“The hard question that is not being asked enough is what are these companies doing to society?” he said, adding that companies needed to reach further than making their own workforce happy.

“You can have happy employees, but it is no good if they are making a product that is wrecking society. We need to make businesses aware and accountable.

“There is an epidemic of adolescent depression in many countries that is associated with the amount of time spent staring at phone screens.

“All over the world, there are treatment centres popping up for young children who are addicted to video gaming and being online.”

Mr Sachs highlighted that there were many documented cases of children taking their own lives because of how they were perceived on social media, and chastised companies for making a profit rather than helping to treat addictions.

“Where are Facebook and the other social media companies in all this?," he said.

“Their psychology is to get more eyes on screens in order to be able to sell more advertising revenue. They are not looking at the well-being of the users, they are looking at the bottom line.

“The amount of greed is unbelievable. Companies need to do more than just make more money.

"People are addicted to all sorts of unhealthy lifestyles and diets. It’s not purely by accident — it is by design.”

The Global Happiness Report Well-being report was produced by the Global Happiness Council. It looks at ways to improve the well-being and happiness of citizens around the world through education, healthcare and improving staff morale.

It also looks at what approaches governments can take to improve happiness in their countries.

Mr Sachs praised the UAE for putting happiness at the top of the discussion.

“Every country should have a happiness minister,” he said.