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.

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