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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Comments (17)

17 responses to “Apple Quietly Reinstates Rival Wellness Apps on iOS”

  1. dontbe evil

    lol ... classic apple style

  2. curtisspendlove

    Except...I haven’t diff’d the old language and new language, but I’m pretty sure the “companies using MDM for parental controls” wasn’t there before. So, no, they weren’t violating the rules of the new policy they were violating the rules of the old policy. Now the policy is changed, and they aren’t violating it, so they can be restored.


    Regardless, if anyone asked my advice to enroll a device into an MDM system just for parental control reasons my answer would be a resounding “hayeeellllll no.”


    Oh, wait. No. Apple is just evil. Sorry forgot what site I was on for a minute. ;)

  3. lvthunder

    These are called wellness apps now? I thought they were called parental control apps.

  4. will

    Good news, not we just need to get the App Store setup in such a way that allows for Apple to make some money, but open the door to better competition.

  5. VMax

    I thought the issue was that by enrolling the device in an MDM system, the app vendor became the effective manager of the device - equivalent to a company enrolling its devices in Intune or joining PCs to a domain before supplying them to staff. Am I misunderstanding this situation? If a parent is the effective owner/manager of the device and the app vendor is merely facilitating that, then there's no problem, but if the app vendor takes that role, then it still seems like a huge security and privacy issue to me, and I think Apple were absolutely right to put a stop to it previously.

    • IanYates82

      In reply to VMax:

      It's hair splitting to some extent. If I enroll my device to inTune, I'm using Microsoft to manage my device but I'm in ultimate control. Of course, you could argue that Microsoft is in control of the device and they're just doing my bidding.

      How would the parental control app companies be any different?

      • VMax

        In reply to IanYates82:

        IMO, it's different because if you enrol a device into Intune, you're almost certainly making an informed decision about it (or carrying out the task on behalf of someone who has made that decision). When parents use MDM to restrict their children's phones, are they fully aware that they're handing potential total control of that device over to a third party, and particularly one who is not as large and risk/scandal-averse as Apple or Microsoft?

  6. Skolvikings

    Surprise, surprise...

  7. Hifihedgehog

    And even with this, they are still despotic and draconian to third parties which needs to be dealt with immediately. For example, there is no support for selecting a default browser other than Safari. I do not refer to specially programmed apps that use iOS's Safari-based web APIs, either, which has a valid programmatic purpose. I mean simply being able to click a link in any app and be redirected to a configured browser of choice. For example, there is also no support for selecting a default email client other than Apple's broken Mail app. This is not rocket science. So many other companies--including Microsoft--who pulled these shenanigans in the past have gotten slapped with penalties by regulatory bodies. Apple is no different here: they need to be penalized as well so other companies get the fair shake they deserve and not have their apps relegated as second-class citizens or--worse--banished as deported deplorables.

    • macdaddy

      In reply to Hifihedgehog:

      Microsoft had 90% market share, a near COMPLETE monopoly when MS got slapped with those penalties, iOS currently has 23% market share, while Android has 74% market share, no chance of it happening unless Apple quadruples it's market share.


      Broken Mail app??, not sure what rock you live under, our company has 1100 iPhones deployed, No one complains about it.


      You do know you can buy Android and join the robot fanbois while Google is tracking and selling EVERY!! damn thing you do, That there needs regulation.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to Hifihedgehog:

      No one is forcing you to develop for the platform. Go make the best app you can on Android if you don't like how iOS operates. I for one don't want ANY government dictating how an OS should work. They can't make anything work efficiently.

  8. BrianEricFord

    I’m no antitrust expert, but it seems like a stretch to say that all product bundling “is” illegal.

    • Hifihedgehog

      In reply to BrianEricFord:

      It is reaching if you are referring to the United States, but the European Union to my knowledge does require Windows to exclude certain prebundled, non-system essential programs like Windows Media Player. The main takeaway here is you should be able to easily procure and use a third party app over a first party one and you should also be able to make that third-party one the default for a given protocol or file type in the operating system's settings. What Apple has been squeaking by with iOS for now a decade plus would have been straightway penalized if Microsoft had done it with Windows. The fact that you still cannot select a default web browser or mail client in iOS flies in the face of decades of judicial precedent which have been served to Microsoft and others. I, for one, am relieved that immediate action is now finally being taken against Apple's draconian, despotic policies.

  9. jboman32768

    Apple caught being blatantly evil. I hope the App makers that got banned are able to sue for damages.

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