A report from The New York Times pointed up to Apple’s elimination of a number of App Store applications that had allowed users to supervise usage of their devices of those used by their children. The note implies that Apple’s move to remove the apps is connected to having designed its own Screen Time feature in iOS 12 that somehow rivals with the other apps, promoting concerns over anticompetitive attitude.
According to a study by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, Apple has eliminated or restricted over the past year at least 11 of the 17 of the most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps.
Apple is facing numerous complains because of the removed apps, with a couple of developers filling an antitrust complaint in Russia with the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab and the European Union’s competition office.
After reading the report, MacRumors reader Zachary Robinson emailed Tim Cook to show concern over the issue and he received a complete response from Phil Schiller, saying that Apple’s elimination of these apps is because of their work with Mobile Device Management (MDM) technology to supervise everything on the user’s device.
Schiller wrote in his email that MDM technology is destined for the company’s users to install on company-owned devices, allowing them to control those phones for management aims. The alternative usage of MDM technology by third-party builders for screen time supervising or parental control rises serious privacy and security worries and Apple has acted so to remove these concerns.
The email from Phil Schiller seems to be genuine and it reads as it follows:
Thank you for being a fan of Apple and for your email.
I would like to assure you that the App Store team has acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security. After you learn of some of the facts I hope that you agree.
Unfortunately the New York Times article you reference did not share our complete statement, nor explain the risks to children had Apple not acted on their behalf. Apple has long supported providing apps on the App Store, that work like our ScreenTime feature, to help parents manage their children’s access to technology and we will continue to encourage development of these apps. There are many great apps for parents on the App Store, like “Moment – Balance Screen Time” by Moment Health and “Verizon Smart Family” by Verizon Wireless.
However, over the last year we became aware that some parental management apps were using a technology called Mobile Device Management or “MDM” and installing an MDM Profile as a method to limit and control use of these devices. MDM is a technology that gives one party access to and control over many devices, it was meant to be used by a company on it’s own mobile devices as a management tool, where that company has a right to all of the data and use of the devices. The MDM technology is not intended to enable a developer to have access to and control over consumers’ data and devices, but the apps we removed from the store did just that. No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device, know their location, track their app use, control their mail accounts, web surfing, camera use, network access, and even remotely erase their devices. Further, security research has shown that there is risk that MDM profiles could be used as a technology for hacker attacks by assisting them in installing apps for malicious purposes on users’ devices.
When the App Store team investigated the use of MDM technology by some developers of apps for managing kids devices and learned the risk they create to user privacy and security, we asked these developers to stop using MDM technology in their apps. Protecting user privacy and security is paramount in the Apple ecosystem and we have important App Store guidelines to not allow apps that could pose a threat to consumers privacy and security. We will continue to provide features, like ScreenTime, designed to help parents manage their children’s access to technology and we will work with developers to offer many great apps on the App Store for these uses, using technologies that are safe and private for us and our children.
Apple is known for its devotion to security and privacy so it’s not unexpected that the company acted so in order to erase the concerns related to how these apps were controlling the use of the devices. However, for some users who ended up preferring the effectiveness of these apps, Apple’s Screen Time option feels like a regression.