Apple backs off crackdown on parental-control apps

Apple's App Store
Apple’s App Store

Jack Nicas for The New York Times:

Over the past year, Apple purged iPhone apps that helped people limit the amount of time they and their children spent on Apple devices, drawing accusations of anticompetitive behavior.

On Monday, as news broke that federal officials were stepping up antitrust scrutiny of Apple and its peers, the Silicon Valley giant abruptly reversed its policy and quietly disclosed that the apps’ practices were allowed.

After promoting its latest software updates in a splashy two-hour presentation on Monday morning, Apple articulated its new policy in a short blog post on a section of its website for developers.

The post said parental-control apps could now use two technologies that Apple had recently cited as grounds for their removal from iPhones.

Apple’s blog post, verbatim:

Updates to the App Store Review Guidelines

June 3, 2019

The App Store is dedicated to the best store experience for everyone. In order to continue providing a safe experience for users and a great opportunity for developers to be successful, we sometimes need to update the App Store Review Guidelines.

Please note these summaries of the latest changes and see the App Store Review Guidelines for full details. All guidelines are now enforced for new and existing apps, unless otherwise indicated.

• Guidelines 1.3 and 5.1.4. In order to help keep kids’ data private, apps in the kids category and apps intended for kids cannot include third-party advertising or analytics software and may not transmit data to third parties. This guideline is now enforced for new apps. Existing apps must follow this guideline by September 3, 2019.

• Guideline 4.7. HTML5 games distributed in apps may not provide access to real money gaming, lotteries, or charitable donations, and may not support digital commerce. This functionality is only appropriate for code that’s embedded in the binary and can be reviewed by Apple. This guideline is now enforced for new apps. Existing apps must follow this guideline by September 3, 2019.

• Guideline 5.4. Because VPN provides access to sensitive data, VPN apps may not sell, use, or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose, and must commit to this in their privacy policy. Certain types of apps — such as those for parental control, content blocking, and security — from approved providers may use the NEVPNManager API.

• Guideline 5.5. (New) Because MDM provides access to sensitive data, MDM apps must request the mobile device management capability, and may only be offered by commercial enterprises, such as business organizations, educational institutions, or government agencies, and, in limited cases, companies utilizing MDM for parental controls. MDM apps may not sell, use, or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose, and must commit to this in their privacy policy.

• Guideline 5.1.3(i). Apps may use a user’s health or fitness data to provide a benefit directly to that user, such as a reduced insurance premium, if the app is submitted by the entity providing the benefit and the data is not shared with a third party. The developer must also disclose to the user the specific health data collected from the device.

• Guideline 5.1.1(vii) (New). Apps that compile information from any source that is not directly from the user or without the user’s explicit consent, even public databases, are not permitted on the App Store.

• Guideline 5.1.1(i). Apps must get consent for data collection, even if the data is considered anonymous at the time of or immediately following collection.

• Guideline 1.1.3. Apps may not facilitate purchase of ammunition.

• Guideline 4.2.7. Remote desktop clients now include game consoles owned by the user. Software appearing in the client must be fully executed on the host device.

Demo videos of app functionality that is geo-locked or otherwise restricted are not accepted. Developers must provide a fully functional app for review.

Sign In with Apple will be available for beta testing this summer. It will be required as an option for users in apps that support third-party sign-in when it is commercially available later this year.

MacDailyNews Take: According to some developers, they lost millions of dollars due to their apps being pulled from the App Store. We’ll see if any seek legal recourse.

Now, where some say Apple “backed off,” others might say Apple simply clarified their stance and erred on the side of privacy and security which would hardly be a sin, especially when it comes apps for children.


  1. MDN: “Think of the children?” Really?

    In a vacuum, you could make this argument. In the context of Apple’s ongoing, repeated, chronic refusal to permit apps in their marketplace that may supplant the functionality of their own offering, the claim that their reason for doing exactly that THIS TIME is altruistic doesn’t hold water.

  2. So does this mean that we cannot use a service like Firebase Analytics to track screen engagement in an app (ie: where a user navigates within app)? If not, are we able to use open source analytics instead? We are just trying to understand the limitations — we don’t want to share any data with anyone but rather find out where the sticking points are in the mobile application and make the app better from that.

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