Apple has reportedly removed a number of apps similar to the iPhone maker’s own Screen Time app, citing children’s privacy as the reason for doing so.
Fast Company reports that tech giant Apple has issued a public statement following a report by the New York Times which alleged that Apple was removing apps that emulated the company’s Screen Time app from its app store. The Times has alleged that over the past year, Apple has removed or generally restricted access to 11 of 17 apps in the iPhone and iPad app store which offer similar features to Apple’s own Screen Time app.
The Screen Time app provides users with metrics on how long they’ve spent on their device, which apps they’ve used the most, and how often they check their phone. The apps also give users the ability to set limits and restrictions on apps, often used by parents to restrict their child’s time on the device.
Now, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, is claiming that although the company did remove some apps like this from the App Store, the Times did not publish the company’s full statement and explanation as to why. In an email to an Apple customer, Schiller stated:
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. Apple has long supported providing apps on the App Store, that work like our ScreenTime feature, to help parents manage their children’s access to technology and we will continue to encourage development of these apps. There are many great apps for parents on the App Store, like “Moment – Balance Screen Time” by Moment Health and “Verizon Smart Family” by Verizon Wireless.
However, over the last year we became aware that some parental management apps were using a technology called Mobile Device Management or “MDM” and installing an MDM Profile as a method to limit and control use of these devices. MDM is a technology that gives one party access to and control over many devices, it was meant to be used by a company on it’s own mobile devices as a management tool, where that company has a right to all of the data and use of the devices. The MDM technology is not intended to enable a developer to have access to and control over consumers’ data and devices, but the apps we removed from the store did just that. No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device, know their location, track their app use, control their mail accounts, web surfing, camera use, network access, and even remotely erase their devices. Further, security research has shown that there is risk that MDM profiles could be used as a technology for hacker attacks by assisting them in installing apps for malicious purposes on users’ devices.
When the App Store team investigated the use of MDM technology by some developers of apps for managing kids devices and learned the risk they create to user privacy and security, we asked these developers to stop using MDM technology in their apps. Protecting user privacy and security is paramount in the Apple ecosystem and we have important App Store guidelines to not allow apps that could pose a threat to consumers privacy and security. We will continue to provide features, like ScreenTime, designed to help parents manage their children’s access to technology and we will work with developers to offer many great apps on the App Store for these uses, using technologies that are safe and private for us and our children.
In short, Schiller claims that third-party app developers using a technology called Mobile Device Management in their Screen Time apps could allow developers to view a child’s iPhone activity, breaching the child’s privacy. Apple has now released a full public statement on the issue which can be found here.