Apple’s attempts to help parents fight smartphone addiction among children should’ve been a PR win. But a group of third-party developers says Cupertino has been unfairly cracking down on their parental control apps in favor of its own products. Apple claims the takedowns are for security purposes.
Last year, Apple added a parental control system, called Screen Time, to iOS 12. But it also removed and restricted at least 11 popular screen-time and parental control apps from third-party developers, The New York Times reports.
As a result, some app makers have had no choice but to shut down. “They yanked us out of the blue with no warning,” the head of OurPact, a parental control iPhone app, told the Times. “They are systematically killing the industry.”
In a Sunday statement, Apple claimed the crackdown had nothing to do with stifling competition. “We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk,” the company claimed.
According to Apple, the third-party apps in question used a “highly invasive technology,” called Mobile Device Management. “MDM gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history,” the company said.
Although MDM does have legitimate uses, especially among enterprises, Apple has banned its use in consumer-facing apps available on the official App Store. “Parents shouldn’t have to trade their fears of their children’s device usage for risks to privacy and security, and the App Store should not be a platform to force this choice. No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device,” the company added.
Apple didn’t provide hard evidence of the MDM usage, but it says affected third-party developers were given 30 days to change their apps. Those that did not were pulled from the App Store.
The developers cited in Times’ report dispute Apple’s take on the crackdown. They claim Apple’s Screen Time feature system is a watered-down parental control app children can quickly learn to circumvent. And they accuse Apple of denying consumers a choice over how families monitor and control device usage.
According to the Times, two popular parental-control apps, Kidslox and Qustodio, have filed complaints with the European Union’s competition office over Apple’s crackdown.