Apple’s Explanation for Removing Rival Wellness Apps is “Misleading”

Posted on May 3, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, iOS with 54 Comments

The makers of the top-rated wellness app for iPhone have lashed out at Apple for removing it from the App Store. And it is calling Apple’s explanation for this action “misleading.”

They’re being kind.

As you may have seen, The New York Times recently published an explosive story that is all-too-familiar to those who follow Apple: After releasing its own digital wellness functionality in iOS, Apple began systematically removing established digital wellness apps from its App Store. This is a classic Apple strategy by which it removes competition to protect its own products and services.

Apple responded to the report by claiming that the Times left out a key detail: The digital wellness apps it removed were using Mobile Device Management (MDM) technologies that Apple says are reserved only for its enterprise customers. This violated its terms of service and users’ privacy, Apple claimed.

As it turns out, Apple’s statement is misleading, and not all of the digital wellness apps that it removed from the Store use MDM technologies. But now the makers of the OurPact mobile app—which does use MDM—are accusing Apple of further abuse.

“Apple’s statement is misleading and prevents a constructive conversation around the future of parental controls on iOS,” the firm notes in a blog post. “We want to take the opportunity to set the record straight about MDM for our loyal users and the many families looking for solutions to guide healthy digital habits. Our hope is that Apple will work with developers in this space so that families continue to have a wide selection of parental controls to choose from.”

OurPact has always used MDN since its launch in 2012, and Apple never complained about its use until it launched its own digital wellness functionality in iOS in 2018. Apple itself extended MDM to include use by children and teachers in schools, OurPact notes.

“OurPact’s core functionality would not be possible without the use of MDM,” OurPact explains. “It is the only API available for the Apple platform that enables the remote management of applications and functions on children’s devices. We have also been transparent about our use of this technology since the outset, and have documented its use in our submissions to the App Store.”

But now Apple is claiming that its MDM technology, which is used by many millions of users, is somehow a risk to privacy and can be used by hackers to steal personal information when in fact it is designed specifically to prevent those issues. Contrary to Apple’s public statements about MDM, this technology cannot see personal data, and cannot transmit it to OurPact or any other party. How do we know this? That’s what Apple’s documentation says.

In other words, Apple is now lying about its reason for removing digital wellness apps from the Store.

It’s also lying about other facts in this episode. “Apple’s public statement claimed that they gave developers 30 days to modify their apps in line with their guidelines, even though their guidelines make no mention of MDM,” OurPact says. “We did not receive any notice before OurPact’s child app was removed by Apple. More importantly, there is no way for any company offering a parental control app to remove MDM functionality and still have a viable product.”

Apple has also not just ignored OurPact’s requests for dialog, it has simply refused to discuss the issue.

“Given that there are no privacy issues with properly vetted MDM apps like OurPact being on the App Store, we humbly request that we are reinstated and allowed to continue providing our million users with the service they love and depend on,” the firm concludes. “We remain committed to solving this problem, and we implore Apple to recognize they have a responsibility to support and encourage the growth of this industry.”

Apple’s a great company, folks. That’s the story, anyway.

Tagged with

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (54)

54 responses to “Apple’s Explanation for Removing Rival Wellness Apps is “Misleading””

  1. igor engelen

    It's rather silly from Apple.

    If someone is not allowed to use certain functionality then make sure they can't use it. The end.

    It's like bitching at my users for let's say using the command which was only meant for sys admins. That's not how things work.

  2. nbplopes

    Not defending Apple as I know it’s no saint. Furthermore, I’m highly critical of the way Apple is handling, let’s say •The MDM Cases”.

    I mean, there is at least an implicit consent from Apple up until now.

    Still Paul failed to provide any shred of evidence for his allegations.

    I mean, it’s not that Apple is charging for Parental Control services. So what is the so called competition that Apple wants to get rid of to protect its free services?

    • skane2600

      In reply to nbplopes:

      The value proposition to a company for discouraging or blocking competing services can be subtle and nuanced. Microsoft didn't charge for Internet Explorer so there was no reason to consider any dark motives for it to make IE the only default browser? Nothing for Netscape to complain about?

      • bzero22

        In reply to skane2600:

        Been a reader of Thurott material for quite some time (but signed up because of how ignorant some of you can be about these matters) and so I'm going to flat out say it: these delisted app creators don't have a case anymore. And before you accuse me of playing troll, I'll straight up remind you as to why this is so: to sell on the App Store, you cannot release an app that uses undocumented, internal proprietary APIs or otherwise infringe on preinstalled functionality inherent to Phone and/or iPad created explicitly for the exclusive use of internal device functions. That's it. There's no such thing as a "grandfather rule" where Apple is concerned - infringing apps both past, present and future that duplicate preinstalled functionality are subject to immediate removal without any prior warning or notification, with subsequent violations even risking the possibility of being banned from selling on the App Store among other punishments inherent to the relevant policy infractions. Or at least that's the gist of it. And this is simply Apple playing the hardball approach, conveniently getting around itself by not explicitly stating that the real reason for pulling the infringing apps is prohibited App Store deployment that (unsurprisingly) did not exist before.

        It is an unfortunate situation for those who are directly affected by this turn of events but the fact in this remains unchanged, and that fact states that "grandfather rules" do not exist on the App Store (and in fact have never existed at all in the first place). So based on my observation it's obviously clear that Apple is more likely than otherwise to be playing the "corporate spin" routine as a means to conveniently dodge the obvious truth by which the App Store rules now explicitly prohibit such apps for no other reason beyond the mere fact that Apple now provides a family device manager of its own, and by design thereof now precludes other apps from doing the same thing under Apple's "undocumented API and duplicate functions" rule.

        As an example of this, Spotify no longer sells in-app subscriptions for what can be legitimately and logistically assumed to run counter consequence for the same reason. The minute Apple Music was announced is when Spotify most likely began its master plan to use the so-called "Apple tax" of 30% applied to incoming subscriptions, at least in part to downplay that it presumably can no longer do so under App Store rules because Apple Music does the same exact thing and offers the same level of services that Spotify does. That's not to say that you cannot download an official Spotify app of course - you simply cannot begin a new subscription from within the app itself. And it's not directly because of the "Apple tax" issue but simply because of the mere fact that Apple Music exists (and is also as a direct competitor to Spotify in the first place). And because the API rules for the "internal function" infringement in the parental control situation are not the same as for an entertainment service, Apple cannot explicitly do the same to Spotify as it is an entirely different app category. However, Apple can "drop banhammer" on in-app purchases for such apps in cases where you would pay for services offered that run counter, comparable or are otherwise equivalent to what you get in Apple's version of the service implementation.

        In this case, Spotify can otherwise remain within App Store rules so long as it doesn't compete "at the device level", which is why you can no longer subscribe from directly within the app itself. But since parental controls work at the device level the same cannot be said here, creating what is (and always will be) the kind of situation where the publishers and developers in the case are simply the victims of Apple's own rules for prohibited apps.

        • nbplopes

          In reply to bzero22:

          From that stance I can conclude that any email software violates the App Store rules. Why stop there. What about One Drive? What about One Note.

          Apple needs to be very very careful when swinging the bat. A lot of devs turned to Apple ecosystem amongst other things, because they lost the trust they had on Microsoft to govern their ecosystem. That was in a time that Android was trying to find their way. Look at Microsoft now in this field, look at UWP ....

          Its a very dangerous place to be, to think and feel one is untouchable.

          Mark my words, if developers turn their back on Apple, they will be left in a worst shape than Microsoft was with Windows Phone. Consumer seam to be already willing to move on. The later at least had the coporate biz to rely on.

          One uses the letter of the law only when common sense fully fails against a set of principles. Apps Store rules should be used that same way. Judiciously.

          Apple should focus in promoting devs work more than anything else. They seam to be doing the opposite lately. They seam to be more focused in finding ways to compete with them.

          • bzero22

            In reply to nbplopes:

            That's not exactly what I said, and it also misses the point. These are apps that require the equivalent of root permissions (via Apple MDM to facilitate doing so) by their very nature and design. And unfortunately Apple prohibits this in consumer apps where functions pre-exist on the device as is now the case. And because Apple now provides its own, the "undocumented API" rule is now being applied retroactively, again because of App Store rules. Spotify, as I mentioned, is a different app category (as are OneNote, Outlook, etc.) so that line of thinking doesn't apply in those cases. Where it does apply is in device-level apps where Apple provides its own as is now the case, hence why the apps are now prohibited.

            • nbplopes

              In reply to bzero22:

              Apple Music it’s not a device level app? What about email? If not, why? What about health apps? Are they now device level apps?

              As I said, Apple needs to be careful. I think a lot of devs are today thinking .... “do they have the wisdom necessary to take this to the next level?”

              Apple has been behaving like a foul lately IMHO.

              • bzero22

                In reply to nbplopes:

                When I mean device level I specifically mean device level: or in other words, the apps that effectively beg for root permissions in order to work properly are the problem when Apple does this. That's where the app developers have run into problems as they are in violation of the rules simply because they do what the iPhone can now do for itself, just applied retroactively because the App Store rules specifically say as much.

                I primarily mentioned Spotify and Apple Music for comparison purposes - these are apps that, while one is an Apple service and the other from an alternate provider, the fact they both fit a different category means they can legitimately co-exist on the App Store, even if Spotify cannot legally provide in-app purchases because it would be considered a device-level competitor to Apple Music under App Store rules. Safari and Edge can exist this way as well provided they interface properly with the same rendering layer, as can iCal and Outlook despite that you cannot subscribe to the latter without using your Microsoft account to do so. That is not the case for apps that only work if they have root permissions obtained using the MDM layer which is why they were removed in the first place due to the fact that Apple implemented this at the system level which in turn mandated their removal under the "undocumented API" rule.

                As I said in my initial post, there's no such thing as a "grandfather rule" on the App Store - you either put up or shut up, and if the iPhone's features change then so do your rights to publish your app on the App Store if it provides the same kind of system-level services as the iPhone does for itself. Or in other words, device-level competition in the case of Spotify and Apple Music is not the same as device-level access requirements inherent to parental control apps. These are two different concepts - the former is perfectly legal for as long as you don't cross-sell your product which more than the "Apple tax" spin is why Spotify killed in-app purchases. Or in other words, the only reason Spotify and Apple Music co-exist (as do iCal and Outlook) is because they fall into an entirely different category. And unfortunately there is no recourse in the case of the apps that were impacted by this turn of events, because App Store rules prohibit you from selling or publishing these kinds of apps when the iPhone provides a built-in mechanism that does the same thing.

                • nbplopes

                  In reply to bzero22:

                  I am from the time where systems root access was the norm. And systems with more than one permission layer referred it by root level.

                  Maybe that is why I have never heard of “device level”. In fact judging by the Spotify explanation it’ seams to me that such definition is kind of movable. I’m also familiar with word like “legacy” while expressions like “grand father” rules in this context are unfamiliar to me.

                  Apart from this, it does not look like you have added much to any observation.

                  I know and understand what Apple is doing technically. Root level aces should not be given lightly to apps. The set of permissions for device management purposes have a wide band. Too wide maybe for Parental Control purposes. So work needs to be done to narrow it down for such purposes.

                  Yet, the way they seam to be dealing with this is political. I mean, from this, arguing that the targeted Parental Control service providers are compromising your privacy it’s a stretch. Without further info it’s slander actually.

                  “Or in other words, the only reason Spotify and Apple Music co-exist ... is because they fall into an entirely different category. “

                  Wow. You are pulling my leg now, right? Smiled with this construction.

                  Its hard what Apple is doing, I understand that. They are beyond anyone has ever been in this context. Developers understand that it’s a moving deal ... but moving deals are based on trust. Careful.

                  For a company that was built to change the world with tech, lately its ambitions seam to be very short sighted.

                  PS: For personal use I have only Apple products. I like it in many ways. But I’m am not easily blind. One good deed does not wash a bad one. Only the ones that set it right.

          • blackcomb

            In reply to nbplopes:

            Apple is already struggling to sell iPhones, their main source of income. It will be it for them once the iPhone is obsolete or just not seen as cool anymore. People forget that you were "cool" in having a Windows 95 PC back in the day.

        • skane2600

          In reply to bzero22:

          Sorry but in my experience when someone starts their statement by claiming that other people commenting are ignorant (or some other insulting claim) what follows usually isn't worth reading.

    • dontbe evil

      In reply to nbplopes:

      I stopped reading at "not defending apple" ... by an apple fanboy

  3. Lordbaal

    So for 6 years Apple knew the they were using MDM, and still let them continue using it without saying anything.

    Now they want to lie about why they banned them.

  4. codymesh

    Apple will continue to ruin whatever goodwill they have with their developers and all these developers will still treat iOS like the flagship mobile platform

  5. Michael Sorrentino

    "This is a classic Apple strategy by which it removes competition to protect its own products and services." - Hmm... removes competition... protect its own products and services... sounds like anti-competitive business practices to me and aren't there laws about that?

    • sonichedgehog360

      In reply to msorrentino:

      There are. The problem is Apple gets a pass while Microsoft and others don’t. Remember when Microsoft got hauled to court in the EU for making IE the default browser?

      iOS doesn’t even let you change the default email or web browser and hasn’t for years after numerous complaints from corporate clients. Yet no action from these so-called regulatory bodies.

      I hate tin-foil hat theories, but it sure makes me wonder what could be the reason for this clear disparity in regulation enforcement.

  6. wocowboy

    Not a word regarding the potential privacy implications as regarding children with the use of these apps by unscrupulous developers, a very telling omission from this article. You can do better, Paul. OurPact’s statement “Given that there are no privacy issues with properly vetted MDM apps” is accepted as truth without question, which is not the case according to Apple’s statement, but that isn’t mentioned by Paul or taken into consideration in this hit piece on Apple. Apple is assumed to be acting wrongfully in their actions and OurPact is assumed to be completely innocent. I think the actual truth lies somewhere in the middle.

  7. Chris Payne

    Typo: "OurPact has always used MDN since its launch in 2012."

  8. jboman32768

    Doesn't Microsoft's InTune use MDM to provide management of IOS devices from O365? - Is InTune going to be affected? - or is it just apps that compete with Apple that are a danger to the public ? :-/

  9. dontbe evil

    what a surprise /s

    apple style

  10. rm

    I have never owned an Apple product and this just re-enforced that I never will. What a crappy company! It would be nice to have a company like Microsoft be able to come forward and say that unless Apple opens up, we will remove all our apps in two years. That would give millions of Office users time to think about switching to Android or maybe then a Windows mobile device instead of an overpriced and locked in iPhone. There are a lot of things Microsoft cannot do with its iOS apps (like Your Phone and Edge) that it can on Android for the same type of reason as this issue.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to RM:

      So what if there are things you can do on Android they you can't on iOS. That's kind of the point and what makes iOS different then Android.

    • bzero22

      In reply to RM:

      Except that a mobile device for Windows means Surface tablets. The "vole hole" completely gave up on Windows 10 as a phone interface after the Nokia deal imploded.

  11. m_p_w_84

    Apple seriously needs an anti-trust case against it.

    And, looking back, it did Microsoft and it's customers a world of good.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to m_p_w_84:

      They don't have a monopoly in anything. You can't make iOS a market of itself.

      • skane2600

        In reply to lvthunder:

        The App store isn't part of iOS.

        • lvthunder

          In reply to skane2600:

          It's a service that runs on iOS only. You can't even access it from iTunes anymore.

          So are you saying Apple shouldn't get a say as to what they sell on the app store. They shouldn't be able to remove malware or anything? That's a dangerous proposition.

          • provision l-3

            In reply to lvthunder:

            That is an Appeal to Extremes. He isn't saying or implying that the App store is an all or nothing proposition.

            With respect to ant-trust laws, monopolies are one of the areas antitrust laws cover but by no means all. The Sherman Act identifies monopolies, collusion, product bundling/tying, refusal to deal, exclusive dealing, dividing territories, conscious parallelism, predatory pricing and misuse of patents/copyrights as potentially anti-competitive practices. For example the anti-trust action taken against Apple and book publishers wasn't based on anyone being a monopoly it was based on collusion.

            I'm not saying the App Store is in violation of the Sherman Act. I don't have the legal expertise required to do so. I'm also guessing that most, if not all, of people that toss around the term on these forums don't either. That said it is worth being informed enough to know that anti-trust covers more than monopolies.

          • skane2600

            In reply to lvthunder:

            You can be assured that anything I didn't say I'm not saying.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to lvthunder:

        Actually, they absolutely can make iOS a market which makes Apple a monopoly in that market. And means they're liable for abusing that monopoly power.

      • Michael Sorrentino

        In reply to lvthunder:

        Neither did Microsoft. Microsoft's anti-trust case was about its bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows and trying to prevent users from installing competing web browsers, among other things.

        What Apple is doing is literally the exact same thing, Apple controls the App Store, Apple offers a wellness app/service, Apple proceeds to then remove competing wellness apps.

        Also, from a product perspective Apple does have a monopoly, they are the only company that manufacturers iOS devices, and as stated earlier they also control the App Store. The same applies to Mac OS, you want a computer running the Mac OS? Better be prepared to give Apple a few thousand as they are the sole manufacturer of them. At least with Microsoft regardless of their software tactics they at least allowed other companies to make and sell computers that ran the Windows operating system, with Apple not only do they want to control whose software you use, they also control who makes the hardware, themselves.

        • skane2600

          In reply to msorrentino:

          I don't think Microsoft prevented anyone from installing competing browsers although it may have prevented people from making the competing browser the default browser.

        • MikeGalos

          In reply to msorrentino:

          Actually, the Microsoft antitrust case was about a LOT more than bundling of IE as the default HTML rendering engine.

          A couple of examples:

          The government had an "expert" witness testifying that it was unfair that Microsoft bundled ANYTHING with the Windows OS and by Windows OS he meant, literally, the microkernel itself. He testified that it was unfair restraint of trade that the customer couldn't choose to buy Windows with a 3rd party Paged Memory Management Unit or a 3rd party Process Scheduler.

          At the time a lot of OEMs were getting paid by "shovelware" vendors to bundle their crap with their computers. This was things like multiple trial copies of anti-virus software and shareware utilities and data files of things like copies of data like an almanac. The OEMs were running on thin margins so that shovelware often was a major revenue source for them. Microsoft offered them a small discount if they would limit their shovelware to only a handful of items. This was done to make it economically viable for OEMs to not damage their customer experience. This was ruled unfair restraint of trade for the shovelware vendors despite it being good for the actual consumer.

          And, yes, I did read all 7,000+ pages of the trial transcript. (I was doing a lot of international travel at the time and it was something to do when I couldn't take watching CNN International for yet another hour)

  12. rh24

    This kind of BS is why Apple frustrates me so much. They do a lot of things right. But they are not good citizens in the global technology ecosystem. They should be brought up on charges of violating antitrust laws. This isn't the first time they've done this sort of thing. I believe Apple has seen it's peak. They can't live on iPhones anymore because so many phones have reached parity. So they are squeezing software and services. I expect more of this in the future if they are not checked regularly. Appreciate Qualcomm for not backing down! Need others to keep Apple honest!

    • lvthunder

      In reply to rh24:

      Which antitrust laws are they violating? What market are they a monopoly of? You can't say the maker of iOS devices. That's not a market? I don't think they are #1 of anything much less being a monopoly of anything.

  13. lvthunder

    Just because the company didn't receive notification doesn't mean Apple didn't send it. With all the filtering and other junk in our email it's easy for it to ether be filtered out or missed.

    It doesn't take much thought into seeing how MDM could be abused. Plus if it was just about screen time they would of banned them all (which they didn't) and they would of done it sooner then now.

  14. jbinaz

    I think every now and then I'd like to switch to an iPhone from my Samsung (currently an S8). And then Apple does stuff like this that makes me think "Nope. Their closed down, locked ecosystem isn't for me."

  15. PanamaVet

    When I replaced the battery in my wife's iPhone 6 I saw plenty of room for a convenient battery change compartment and a memory card slot. $15 for the battery and the tools.

    Will the removed fitness app users also lose their historical health data?

    It's not about fitness of the users of Apple products, is it...