Apple says it pulled a bunch of screen time apps because they were using 'highly invasive' technology


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  • Apple published a blog on Sunday defending its decision to take down multiple apps which helped people limit their screen time.
  • The New York Times reported Saturday that Apple pulled the apps after it introduced its own Screen Time feature, and two of the apps filed an antitrust complaint to the EU.
  • Apple claims it removed the apps because it discovered they were using a technology called MDM, which it described as “highly invasive.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Apple has defended itself following a New York Times report that said the tech giant was shutting down third-party sceen time limiting apps that were in competition with its newly introduced Screen Time feature.

Two of the most popular apps Apple pulled from the App Store — Kidslox and Qustodio — have filed an antitrust complaint to the European Union, the Times said in a report on Saturday.

Read more: Apple is reportedly going after apps designed to limit screen time, after pushing its own feature that tracks phone use

But in a blog published Sunday, Apple said it had removed the apps in question because they violated the company’s security standards.

Apple said it became aware that these apps were using “highly invasive” MDM (Mobile Device Management), software. MDM allows third parties to monitor and control what happens on a device, and is sometimes used by businesses to keep control over things like proprietary data, giving them the ability to wipe devices remotely.

Apple’s argument is that MDM should not be used on consumers, especially in the case of apps targeted at parents trying to limit their children’s screentime.

“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,” it said.

Apple said it gave the app developers a 30 day grace period to get rid of the MDM technology. Several released updates that complied with Apple’s ruling. Those that didn’t were removed from the App Store.

“Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security,” Apple said.

In the original New York Times report, an Apple spokeswoman said Apple removed or required changes to the apps in question because “they could gain too much information from users’ devices,” in the words of reporter Jack Nicas. Otherwise, detail was scant.

Apple was not immediately able to comment when Business Insider asked whether it had provided the Times with detail about its MDM concerns.

You can read Apple’s full statement here:

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.

SEE ALSO: Apple goes for the jugular in a searing response to Spotify’s antitrust complaint

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