Apple has issued a rare public statement following a report by the New York Times on Saturday that alleged Apple was cracking down on apps that its Screen Time feature emulates. The Times story says that over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 apps that offer Screen Time-like features. Screen Time is a feature on iOS 12 and later that allows a user to see how much time they spend on their iPhone, what apps they use the most, and the ability for the user or parents of the users to set limitations on the apps.
While it’s true that Apple has removed some of the apps from the App Store since the company introduced its Screen Time software, the company’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, said the Times did not publish the full reason Apple gave them as to why some of the competing apps were pulled. As MacRumors reports, in an email to an Apple customer, Schiller said:
Thank you for being a fan of Apple and for your email.
I would like to assure you that the App Store team has acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security. After you learn of some of the facts I hope that you agree.
Unfortunately the New York Times article you reference did not share our complete statement, nor explain the risks to children had Apple not acted on their behalf.
Schiller then went on to explain the exact reasons Apple pulled some of the Screen Time-like apps, citing the fact that they were using a technology called Mobile Device Management or “MDM,” which is used by companies to access, monitor, and control employee devices. This meant that the companies of those parental control and screen monitoring apps that used MDM technology could theoretically view a child’s iPhone and their activity on it remotely—a major violation of that child’s privacy.
As to why the New York Times didn’t include Apple’s MDM explanation: that’s unclear. But now Apple has released a public statement clearly laying out its reasoning behind pulling the apps. You can read it in its entirety below:
Apple has always believed that parents should have tools to manage their children’s device usage. It’s the reason we created, and continue to develop, Screen Time. Other apps in the App Store, including Balance Screen Time by Moment Health and Verizon Smart Family, give parents the power to balance the benefits of technology with other activities that help young minds learn and grow.
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.
Over the last year, we became aware that several of these parental control apps were using a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management, or MDM. MDM gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including 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.
MDM does have legitimate uses. Businesses will sometimes install MDM on enterprise devices to keep better control over proprietary data and hardware. But it is incredibly risky—and a clear violation of App Store policies—for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device. Beyond the control that the app itself can exert over the user’s device, research has shown that MDM profiles could be used by hackers to gain access for malicious purposes.
Parents shouldn’t have to trade their fears of their children’s device usage for risks to privacy and security, and the App Store should not be a platform to force this choice. No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device.
When we found out about these guideline violations, we communicated these violations to the app developers, giving them 30 days to submit an updated app to avoid availability interruption in the App Store. Several developers released updates to bring their apps in line with these policies. Those that didn’t were removed from the App Store.
We created the App Store to provide a secure, vibrant marketplace where developers and entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to users worldwide, and users can have faith that the apps they discover meet Apple’s standards of security and responsibility.
Apple has always supported third-party apps on the App Store that help parents manage their kids’ devices. Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security.
In this app category, and in every category, we are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem. There are many tremendously successful apps that offer functions and services similar to Apple’s in categories like messaging, maps, email, music, web browsers, photos, note-taking apps, contact managers and payment systems, just to name a few. We are committed to offering a place for these apps to thrive as they improve the user experience for everyone.