U.S. DOJ contacting app developers in Apple antitrust probe

The U.S. Justice Department has reached out to app developers as part of its Apple antitrust probe, one of the four big tech companies (along with Google, Facebook, and Amazon) and being probed for alleged anti-competitive behavior, Reuters reports, citing “one of the developers and another person familiar with the investigation.”

Apple antitrust probe: Screen Time provides management tools for customers to control how they spend their time interacting with their iOS devices.
Screen Time provides management tools for customers to control how they spend their time interacting with their iOS devices.

Diane Bartz for Reuters:

The chief executive of developer Mobicip, Suren Ramasubbu, told Reuters he was interviewed in November by a U.S. investigator who asked about the company’s interactions with Apple. The app, which has nearly a million users worldwide, allows parents to control what their children see on their iPhones. Ramasubbu said the Mobicip app was temporarily removed from the iPhone app store last year for a failure to meet requirements imposed by Apple.

A source familiar with the Justice Department’s investigation said a handful of app developers had been contacted in what is the first indication of what officials are pursuing involving Apple since the investigation was revealed by Reuters in June…

Apple introduced its Screen Time app, which includes parental controls, in June 2018. At the start of 2019, Ramasubbu told Reuters, his company was contacted by Apple and warned that Mobicip’s app violated the iPhone-maker’s rules relating to technical elements that had previously been acceptable… Apple has said that it had been concerned about parental control apps using technology which gave developers access to sensitive data, and that they declined to approve apps that used the technology if they did not also commit to not sharing data on children.

MacDailyNews Take: Apple is right to enforce strict guideline violations, especially in cases as concerning as MDM abuse. It’s simply a matter of security.

Apple in April released an official statement regarding the removal of parental control apps from the App Store. Here it is, verbatim:

APPLE STATEMENT
April 28, 2019

The facts about parental control apps

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.

11 Comments

      1. What rationale would the DOJ have to initiate that investigation? As far as I can see it’s a deal between Google and Apple with a possible privacy issue that may be at odds with Apple’s policies.

  1. Perhaps in the future if Apple removes Apps by claiming security concerns for popular Apps from which a recently released Apple App appears to replicate features, they should share those concerns months before releasing their own. The present method of releasing their App followed by 3rd party Apps with overlapping features being banned is in really bad taste, not to mention extremely suspicious.

          1. “MDM can be revoked at will by Apple.”

            If you’re working within the rules this will not happen. You’re in tin foil hat land now imagining if this or if that and if this other thing. Using that same logic any company might do anything to its customers at any time. Try to apply some common sense please. Yes Apple can revoke privileges. Will they do it if you follow what I (as a real developer, unlike you) consider very relaxed ecosystem rules? No they will not. If you actually know what you’re doing (which you do not) there is no problem.

            I did my homework long ago. Now it’s time to take off your tin foil hat. Now quick go and Google furiously for examples of Apple treating developers unfairly. What? You found some examples? Do you mean to tell me that Apple is a huge company made up of humans that make mistakes? Apple isn’t 100 percent perfect? No! Say it ain’t so!

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