With congressional probes and greater scrutiny from federal regulators on the horizon, Apple has abruptly reversed course on its bans of parental control apps available in its app store.
The battle between Apple and certain app developers dates back to last year when the iPhone maker first put companies on notice that it would cut their access to the app store if they didn’t make changes to their monitoring technologies.
The heart of the issue is the use of mobile device management (MDM) technologies in the parental control apps that Apple has removed from the App Store, Apple said in a statement earlier this year.
These device management tools give to a third party control and access over a device’s user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history.
“We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017,” the company said.
Apple acknowledged that the technology has legitimate uses in the context of businesses looking to monitor and manage corporate devices to control proprietary data and hardware, but, the company said, it is “a clear violation of App Store policies — for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device.”
Last month, developers of these parental monitoring tools banded together to offer a solution. In a joint statement issued by app developers including OurPact, Screen Time, Kidslox, Qustodio, Boomerang, Safe Lagoon and FamilyOrbit, the companies said simply, “Apple should release a public API granting developers access to the same functionalities that Apple’s native ‘Screen Time’ uses.”
By providing access to its Screen Time app, Apple would obviate the need for the kind of controls that developers had put in place to work around Apple’s restrictions.
“The API proposal presented here outlines the functionality required to develop effective screen time management tools. It was developed by a group of leading parental control providers,” the companies said. “It allows developers to create apps that go beyond iOS Screen Time functionality, to address parental concerns about social media use, child privacy, effective content filtering across all browsers and apps and more. This encourages developer innovation and helps Apple to back up their claim that ‘competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers.’ ”
Essentially it just reverses the company’s policy without granting access to Screen Time, as the consortium of companies have suggested.
“It’s been a hellish roller coaster,” Dustin Dailey, a senior product manager at OurPact, told The New York Times. OurPact had been the top parental control app in the App Store before it was pulled in February. The company estimated that Apple’s move cost it around $3 million, a spokeswoman told the Times.