Late last week, several parental control apps were removed from the App Store by Apple. It caused a bit of an uproar as many interpreted it Apple removing competition for their own app, Screen Time that is built into iOS, in the App Store. Apple seemingly heard the uproar and took to the Apple Newsroom feed to explain why they were removed.
The short answer is privacy. Apple felt the way that these parental control apps that were removed handled parental control features put user devices and data at risk. They went as far as warning developers 30 days ago that they had to change their code to stay in the store. Some did, others didn’t.
The issue for Apple was how these third-party apps were treating end user devices and data. Many of those removed were using MDM – Mobile Device Management. MDM is a common thing in the enterprise. It allows companies to control what is installed on a mobile device, gives access to data, and limits the sites that an employee can visit while using that phone.
The issue with using MDM for consumers is they are effectively – and often unknowingly – giving a third-party access to their devices and data. That is exactly why Apple had a problem with these solutions and removed them from the App Store.
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.
The statement from the Cupertino, California tech giant also directly called out The New York Times article that got everyone in a hubbub over the app’s removals. They point out that the issue at hand was not about competition but about security.
Whether or not developers and the general public believe Apple on this is yet to be seen. The removal of these apps however, in the name of security and privacy, fall in line with previous actions by the company. Apple considers privacy to be a fundamental human right and a pillar on which the company is built.
That said, Apple could solve a lot of the issue here by allowing developers to access the Screen Time API in iOS 12 and likely coming in macOS 10.15. With the company controlling what can and cannot be accessed through that API, it would solve a problem for developers as well as a potential pubic headache over removal of apps which violate policies.