Apple Faces Backlash After Removing Parental Control Apps

Posted on April 28, 2019 by Brad Sams in Mobile, iOS with 14 Comments

Earlier this year, Apple removed several apps from its store that were designed to help control what your kids were doing on their devices. The applications also monitored communications and screen time as well, which sounds a lot like the features Apple released with iOS 12 last year.

On the surface, it sounds like Apple is removing the apps as they duplicated functionality already provided by the OS. Apple has used this reasoning in the past to remove applications and once again, it looked like Apple was squashing competition in favor of its own features.

Following a bunch of stories from many publications about the removal of these apps, Apple put out a statement detailing why they are removing the content.

Their reasoning is that these applications were using features of iOS that were not designed to be used by consumer applications. Specifically, they were using the Mobile Device Management features, that do have real value for business customers, to control data for consumers.

Because these features were being utilized by a third-party, those companies could have been collecting unauthorized data from the users which is against Apple’s terms of service. Additionally, the users of these apps may not have known they were opening themselves up to potential privacy issues by using these applications.

Apple calls out a post this week by the New York Times that says that the removal of the apps was about competition whereas their viewpoint is that it’s about privacy. In that post, Kidslox and Qustodio stated their apps were removed without warning and that they have filed complaints with the EU.

No matter your stance on the subject, Apple owns the App store and if they don’t like what you are doing, there is very little you can do about it. If these companies were knowingly breaking the rules that Apple outlined, then the onus is on them, but if it is ever revealed this was about competition, then Apple will inevitably have to pay the piper.

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Comments (14)

14 responses to “Apple Faces Backlash After Removing Parental Control Apps”

  1. skane2600

    Microsoft used to get grief just for releasing a competitive product, even though they didn't prevent them from running on Windows. This is the inevitable result of a closed ecosystem.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to skane2600:

      Windows circa 1997 and iOS today aren't particularly comparable. Windows back then didn't have an exclusive software store entirely in MSFT's control. Apple does have an app store for iOS in its exclusive control. Part of the problem with Windows software 2 decades ago was that somehow MSFT application software developers got access to specs for new Windows features months before 3rd party developers did.

      • skane2600

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        The issue is not being judged by the same standard.

        I think the issue of MS devs getting feature knowledge first was more of an excuse than a real problem. Most companies who were serious about targeting Windows weren't really held back by this practice (assuming it really was MS's SOP).

  2. cheetahdriver

    If these guys were using MDM features, then this is exactly why I buy Apple. I doubt Apple would have thrown out an explicit reason like this without having the backup for it.

    • wright_is

      In reply to cheetahdriver:

      Yes, MDM is there to give companies full control over what is done with their devices / devices that have company data on them.

      This includes adding restrictions to what can be installed or viewed, but also to an extent tracking what is done on the phone, where the phone is etc. and remote wiping it.

      Some of that would certainly fall under privacy violations, if it is a private device and the user of the phone hadn't agreed to it or the user is a minor.

  3. jgraebner

    I think the question they don't really answer, though, is why using these features in this way was fine up until recently. If nothing else, it certainly looks highly questionable that they suddenly decided this was a misuse of the MDM features right after they introduced their own competing feature.

    Maybe this really was just a re-evaluation of the privacy risks around these features, but Apple's history certainly provides a lot of reasons to be suspicious.

  4. nbplopes

    Parental Control is a specific case of device management.

    Apple has to be careful. Time and time again it has been proven that customer trust is fundamental in business.

    If Privacy is something that it cares, it should than publish its own "GDPR" and layout specific procedures to enforce it in its ecosystem. This would be much better than justifying actions per potential misuse of an API in a specific context. To put it simply Apple with this action simply stated that these apps where violating users privacy while providing no information backing such claim. For instance, where they violating GDPR?

    • Truffles

      In reply to nbplopes:

      Apple has published general principles for developers, but they've said several times that they won't be more specific because that just leads to an arms race of more-and-more specific rules. Instead, they just name the principle that an app isn't adhering to, and say why its a problem. I think there's some wisdom in that approach.

      • nbplopes

        In reply to Truffles:

        I don't disagree with a principle based system. The question is then where the principles of user privacy where violated by the apps in question.

        Because you see, Parental Controls is device management for parents. Apple can argue that they did not offer an MDM API for such purpose, but they failed to state that. Furthermore, they argued that by using those apps users where at risk.

        "We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk. It’s important to understand why and how this happened." - Apple

        If I owned a company provisioning those kinds of services, I would be all over them with the law!!!! If I strongly believed that my company was not doing such thing It would be at the minimum ... slander .... with intent to cause arm.

        I can’t believe that Apple is in the slander business against the developers on their ecosystems so they better have proof of those statements.

        What happened with the Facebook related apps was a different matter. They were not doing MDM in anyway.

    • Andi

      In reply to nbplopes:

      Let me help you. Apple approved these apps prior knowing exactly what they were doing. Now that they are entering the arena they are using a plausible pretense to eliminate them.

      On the rules part, Apple is being deliberately vague so as to have as much leeway as possible when it decides to take action.

      • nbplopes

        In reply to Andi:

        Thank you for helping me.

        Yet your reasoning does not make much sense for the sole reason that Apple does not charge for its Parental Control features in iOS. Like it does not charge for Notes, Email service, Pages, Numbers, all while not throwing Ads at it to see if customers mind. An Ad and Clutter free environment. They did not went after Evernote and many other apps/services that offer simular if not better (usually) features than default apps.

        So there seams to be no business incentive to go after these businesses.

        What I do think, is that Apple is being incompetent here and as it gets richer its communication skills are getting worst. With more power comes greater responsibility and they should not wave their tail has they used to, because it is much, much more powerfull. Otherwise "someone" will come and force them be more conscious.

        • jgraebner

          In reply to nbplopes:

          The two most prominent products that were removed, Kidslox and Qustodio, are cross-platform. Both products support iOS, Android, Mac OS, and Windows and offer a single-solution method for parents to manage parental control settings across all devices on all those platforms.

          This definitely gives Apple a solid business reason to push their own product, which locks the customers in to Apple's ecosystem.

  5. hrlngrv

    There's very little individuals can do about Apple pulling apps from their Store. However, if the EU were convinced that Apple did so for anticompetitive reasons, fines in the billion Euro range might just get Apple's attention.

  6. dontbe evil

    apple style...ah but is apple not MS, so it's totally fine