Why Apple’s removal of third-party screen time apps might save your kids

Is Apple keeping you safe, or eliminating the competition?

The tech giant reportedly removed nearly a dozen third-party apps that emulate its Screen Time feature, according to The New York Times. The report claims that Apple, which introduced its own Screen Time feature last September, has removed at least 11 of 17 apps that alert users of how much time they spend on their phones or offered parent controls that limit kids from using the phones.

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While apps cried foul about Apple “systematically killing the industry” and purposely targeting competition so its own app can thrive, Apple is painting a different picture.

Apple, whose screen-time app features on iOS 12 and later, claims The Times didn’t get the whole story straight. Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller emailed some customers about how Apple “acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.”

In a statement, Schiller claims Apple yanked some of the apps because they used Mobile Device Management (“MDM”), which he said has been used by companies to hack devices remotely. This allows third-party control over sensitive information like location, app use, emails, camera permissions, and browsing history, according to Apple.

Sinister motives

“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,” Schiller said in a statement.

Popular iPhone apps like Abercrombie & Fitch, Expedia and others have been known to secretly record your screen through “session replay” which shows developers how you interact with the app, Tech Crunch reported earlier this year.

You can read Apple’s full statement below:

Apple has always believed that parents should have tools to manage their children’s device usage. It’s the reason we created, and continue to develop, Screen Time. Other apps in the App Store, including Balance Screen Time by Moment Health and Verizon Smart Family, give parents the power to balance the benefits of technology with other activities that help young minds learn and grow.

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. It’s important to understand why and how this happened.

Over the last year, we became aware that several of these parental control apps were using a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management, or MDM. 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. We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017.

MDM does have legitimate uses. Businesses will sometimes install MDM on enterprise devices to keep better control over proprietary data and hardware. But it is incredibly risky—and a clear violation of App Store policies—for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device. Beyond the control that the app itself can exert over the user’s device, research has shown that MDM profiles could be used by hackers to gain access for malicious purposes.

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.

When we found out about these guideline violations, we communicated these violations to the app developers, giving them 30 days to submit an updated app to avoid availability interruption in the App Store. Several developers released updates to bring their apps in line with these policies. Those that didn’t were removed from the App Store.

We created the App Store to provide a secure, vibrant marketplace where developers and entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to users worldwide, and users can have faith that the apps they discover meet Apple’s standards of security and responsibility.

Apple has always supported third-party apps on the App Store that help parents manage their kids’ devices. Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security.

In this app category, and in every category, we are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem. There are many tremendously successful apps that offer functions and services similar to Apple’s in categories like messaging, maps, email, music, web browsers, photos, note-taking apps, contact managers and payment systems, just to name a few. We are committed to offering a place for these apps to thrive as they improve the user experience for everyone.

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