Apple cracks down on screen-time and parental-control apps

“They all tell a similar story: They ran apps that helped people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones,” Jack Nicas reports for The New York Times. “Then Apple created its own screen-time tracker. And then Apple made staying in business very, very difficult.”

“Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm,” Nicas reports. “Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps… Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy.”

“On Thursday, two of the most popular parental-control apps, Kidslox and Qustodio, filed a complaint with the European Union’s competition office. Kidslox said business had plummeted since Apple forced changes to its app that made it less useful than Apple’s tool,” Nicas reports. “‘We treat all apps the same, including those that compete with our own services,’ said Tammy Levine, an Apple spokeswoman. ‘Our incentive is to have a vibrant app ecosystem that provides consumers access to as many quality apps as possible.’ She said the timing of Apple’s moves were not related to its debut of similar tools.”

“Last year, the company stopped apps from using the software to enable parents to control their children’s devices. The Apple spokeswoman said Apple had blocked the practice because app makers could gain access to too much information on the children’s devices.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple’s “App Store Review Guidelines” states, right in the introduction, “We have lots of kids downloading lots of apps. Parental controls work great to protect kids, but you have to do your part too. So know that we’re keeping an eye out for the kids.”

Apple’s complete “App Store Review Guidelines” are here.

Kaspersky Lab files antitrust complaint against Apple’s App Store in Russia – March 19, 2019
Screen Time: Will we actually reclaim our time from iPhones and iPads in 2019? – December 26, 2018
Apple’s Screen Time is not accurate for tracking your habits – September 28, 2018


    1. Buy an Android phone, applecynic, and invest all the money that you want in malware-infested crap on that platform. You have a choice, so vote with your dollar and go haunt Google and Samsung websites with your angst.

      1. No sir, I have more choice than that, and that is the choice to critique. Btw… the malware infested full of crap are not even your words. Back to your guardian.

  1. I watch what my kids look at and view histories.
    I think because of their iPhones they know more than any other generation of 10 year olds in history. What they talk about is amazing. The entire knowledge of the world at their fingertips.

    I compare that to the hours I spent watching the Six Million Dollar Man, Brady Bunch, Flintstones, mindless other stuff, and feel I should have my kids life. Something like that.

  2. The Six Million Dollar Man wasn’t mindless. It introduced the concept of cyborgs and cybernetics to the audience, it brought biomedical engineering to the attention of the public. It introduced the word bionics to our cultural vocabulary. It showed how the government could be sitting on technology that could help countless people, but they squandered it on spying.

    Best lunch pails ever.

    Spinoff, the Bionic Woman was an Emmy winning show.


    I don’t count the big foot episode.

  3. My guess is that Apple doesn’t want 3rd party apps (Parental Control apps in this case) which can monitor which other apps that a person is using–basically, a company could write an app to spy on your app usage (and potentially sell that data) . . . I don’t think that idea is fleshed out in the NY times article.

    1. Could be. Another idea is that they don’t want competition over these apps that “duplicate functionality”. Or they want the info to themselves, except that info belongs to the users themselves.

      With Google you agree to pay with your info, with Apple you pay with money.

    2. It seems at this point Apple could prove a ‘bad’ App by testing the App for any data being transmitted out from the device and outing those Apps. That would be a hell of lot more reasonable and less hurtful to their PR than their current policy of removing screen time and parental-control Apps wholesale at the same time they ‘coincidentally’ release their own App that enables screen time management and parental controls.

  4. Via, an email from Phil Schiller,

    “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.

    Thank you,


    The NYT didn’t publish Apple’s full response, they left out the bit where Apple reached out to the devs and asked them to stop using MDM tools in public apps. Anyone who’s used Mobile Device Management tools knows just how much unfettered control you have over devices. It’s the sort of technology that doesn’t belong in a public app, the devs are using it in a way that it was never intended to be used, much like the Facebook enterprise certificate scandal not long ago. I’m not saying that the developers have bad motives or intentions, they just wanted to create these great apps but unfortunately chose to use the wrong technology which makes their apps vulnerable to abuse.

    I think there are some classes of apps where it may be better if the platform provider creates them, like Apple’s Screen Time. Are you really willing to trust third party app developers with this sort of information?

    Apple could eventually create a set of official public APIs for devs who want to create this type of app but at the moment those APIs don’t exist and while this may be frustrating for developers and users who want something more than Screen Time we can’t just comprise the platform and the trust users have in it.

    It’s easy to get angry at Apple over this and see it as them being overly controlling but if you take a step back it really comes down to a few developers completely misusing technology and Apple protecting it’s users by stopping them doing that.

    I think NYT’s article was extremely poor in reflecting the reality of the situation and I think the developers are not being truthful to it’s users, unfortunately one wants clicks/views and the other wants to protect their business.

    I personally would like to see Apple take screen time further, it has to come to all of it’s devices (Mac) and they should expand its feature set (I think this is a given, this is only the first version of Screen Time after all).
    At the same time maybe Apple could create a set of safe APIs that allow devs to create a similar class of apps. History has shown that as Apple adds new features to their OSes and releases new APIs, new classes of apps start appearing, I hope that happens here.

      1. On my computer I should be able to run anything I want, unimpeded, and without Apple’s permission.

        Solution… competing stores. I choose to have my own “IT department”

        You still have the choice to shop Apple only. Got it Bugle Boy?

        1. Apple Cynic sides with MDM abusers and believes they should have the right to steal your data.

          Apple Cynic is the bungle boy who should stay in the Google jungle where he likes to play in the mud.

          Good one, Apple Bungle Boy! No wonder the sad trombone sound is your new permanent jingle.

      2. Applecynic has the absolute freedom to run anything he wants on his computer, but not on his iPhone. Why is that? Because Apple has to be concerned for the 98% of its customers who are not tech-savvy, not just the 2% or less with computer expertise. Maybe he knows not to buy and use software that allows a third party to manage his phone, mine his data, install malware, and compromise his physical security by broadcasting his location. He certainly knows not to install such software on his children’s phones.

        Sadly, most iPhone users and parents don’t. If Apple offered such software in its store, or facilitated its installation from other sources, it could allow very serious harm. When there are a billion iPhones in use, even a very small risk could affect hundreds of families. The headlines in the wake of the disaster would not read “Nannyware Does Harm” but rather “iPhones Kill Children.”

        Got it?

      3. the fact that this security hole in the entire device is so easy and blatant should open your eyes.

        i’ve used MDM techniques exactly like this. ON IPHONES/ you can totally own some fools iphone. its kind of awesome. can’t wait until there is also a shiny apple credit card onboard too.

    1. I should add that Apple hasn’t pulled all of these types of apps. They’ve only removed apps that used the MDM features incorrectly. I suspect Apple will amend their tools and guidelines to prevent this happening again. If Apple was killing the competition they would have removed all of them, this is simply them removing apps that abuse the developer APIs and guidelines (this actually happens all the time including on Android).

      I think as long as Apple doesn’t stop devs from developing for other platforms or users from buying other products there isn’t an issue here.

      I’d rather a trustworthy marketplace than a free for all but that’s just me, you may be different and there’s nothing wrong with that.

      If you don’t like Apple’s terms let them know, if enough people ask/complain then there is a good chance they will do something (they do listen, it may take some time and they may not quite do what you want). Otherwise you’re free to go to another product/marketplace which may also make them change due to market pressures.

    2. “I’m not saying that the developers have bad motives or intentions”
      I am 🙂 They know they’re not supposed to be doing it, are told not to do it, yet still do it. Yes, they have bad intentions.

  5. By failing to provide a reasonable explanation of what issues they claim are a problem and what type of action the authors should do to fix them.
    Apple are acting unreasonably – and thus leaving themselves liable to claims of “Unreasonable business practice” – in theory the problem should be easily fixable – but it seems that until heads roll – nothing much is being done about this.

    Meanwhile Apple suffers further “reputational damage” for this arrogant off-hand attitude and behaviour towards their customers.

    1. You should read FizzyPanda’s posting above from 6:03, four and a half hours before yours. If you do not regard that as a “rational explanation,” I doubt that anything would satisfy you.

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