A child holds an Apple iPhone 6S at an Apple store on Chicago's Magnificent Mile in Chicago
A child holds an Apple iPhone 6S at an Apple store on Chicago's Magnificent Mile in Chicago

Apple admits it is removing iPhone screen time tracking apps – and explains why it is happening

'This isn't a matter of competition, it's a matter of security,' company says

Andrew Griffin@_andrew_griffin
Monday 29 April 2019 12:30
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Apple has confirmed that it is removing screen time tracking apps from the App Store – but explained why it has been doing so.

The company has been mysteriously removing the apps, which are regularly used by parents to keep track of their children, from the store, according to a report from the New York Times. It led to fears Apple was acting to benefit itself, since it makes its own screen time tracking tools.

The company said that it was taking the apps away – but that it was doing so to protect its users' privacy, not itself.

The original report had claimed the tech firm had forced a number of parental control apps to remove key features in the last year, or removed them entirely with little warning.

It said 11 of the 17 most popular apps in this category had been taken down or restricted in the 12 months.

Last year, Apple introduced its own Screen Time functionality, which is built in to iPhones and iPads and enables users to monitor their mobile device use as well as that of their children, and set time limits on app usage.

The report said many app makers believe they had been targeted because their apps rival Apple's own features and could harm the tech giant's business.

In response, Apple said it had removed a number of apps because of security concerns.

"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," a company statement said.

"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."

The firm said it had concerns over a technology known as Mobile Device Management (MDM), which gives control of a device to a third party.

Apple said it acknowledged that this technology did have legitimate uses in some business settings, but said its use in consumer apps was a "clear violation" of its App Store policies.

"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," the company said.

"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."

Last month, Spotify confirmed it had reported Apple to European regulators over what it claimed were anti-competitive practices in the way it managed some payments made through the App Store, accusing the firm of using the store it to give its own Apple Music service an advantage over Spotify's rival app.

In response, the iPhone maker claimed Spotify had wrapped "financial motivations in misleading rhetoric".

Additional reporting by agencies

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