Apple Quietly Reinstates Rival Wellness Apps on iOS

Posted on June 4, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Cloud, iOS with 17 Comments

After the U.S. House of Representatives informed Apple that it was under investigation, the firm quietly reinstated banned wellness apps for iOS.

That’s no coincidence.

As you may have heard, Apple last year began banning digital wellness apps from its App Store for iOS after it added similar features to its mobile platform. The rationale for this banning was classic Apple misdirection: The apps were utilizing Mobile Device Management (MDM) technologies that Apple said were reserved only for its enterprise customers, thus violating its terms of service and users’ privacy. But MDM is perfect for allowing parents to control what their kids can do on iOS devices, and there were no privacy violations. Apple’s justification was “misleading,” in the words of one banned app maker.

Separately, Apple is under investigation for App Store-related antitrust violations in the EU. The issue here is uncannily similar, even though it doesn’t seem so at first: Spotify charged that Apple was abusing its market power because Apple belatedly entered the market for music streaming and doesn’t impose the same restrictions on its own service that it does on Spotify and others. Put simply, it is far more costly for Spotify and other streaming music services to do business on iOS, which puts Apple’s new service at an unfair advantage.

In both cases, Apple is engaged in product bundling, which we know is illegal under U.S. antitrust laws. But it is also working explicitly to disadvantage its competition in the markets for which it is bundling apps and services, too. Which is also illegal.

And now the U.S. government is finally starting to pay attention.

As part of a broader and sudden effort to curb the impact of Big Tech, the U.S. House of Representatives alerted Apple—as well as Amazon, Facebook, and Google—on Monday that it was launching an investigation into how these companies conduct business. They are looking specifically for anti-competitive behavior. And when it finds that behavior, which it will with each of the warned companies, it will instruct the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission to launch antitrust investigations and put a stop this behavior.

In a stunning coincidence—cough—Apple on Monday quietly reinstated those banned digital wellness apps. No, it didn’t announce the resolution of this issue on stage at the highly-publicized WWDC keynote. Instead, it issued a quiet update to its App Store Review Guidelines that addresses the need for digital wellness apps to use MDM technologies, which are ideal for this scenario.

“Because MDM provides access to sensitive data, MDM apps must request the mobile device management capability, and may only be offered by commercial enterprises, such as business organizations, educational institutions, or government agencies, and, in limited cases, companies utilizing MDM for parental controls,” the new guidelines read. “MDM apps may not sell, use, or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose, and must commit to this in their privacy policy.”

None of the banned apps were violating the rules of this new policy previously.

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