Apple: The facts about parental control apps

On Saturday, the New York Times released an article titled Apple Cracks Down on Apps That Fight iPhone Addiction.

As Shawn posted here, Phil Schiller responded to a letter from a MacRumors reader with a detailed rebuttal.

Yesterday, Apple released an official response to that New York Times article, addressing the removal of a number of parental control apps from the App Store:

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.


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.


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.

There’s more, but that’s the gist of the argument.

Let’s revisit the New York Times article, with Apple’s response in mind:

They all tell a similar story: They ran apps that helped people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones. Then Apple created its own screen-time tracker. And then Apple made staying in business very, very difficult.

Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps.

In some cases, Apple forced companies to remove features that allowed parents to control their children’s devices or that blocked children’s access to certain apps and adult content. In other cases, it simply pulled the apps from its App Store.

Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy.

From the New York Times’ presentation, one might get the impression that Apple wanted to own the screen-time and parental control app space, eliminating competition in those areas.

But Apple’s response paints a very different picture. You can see why they responded so quickly to this issue.

One final bit from Apple’s release:

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.

Apple is making it clear that this isn’t about owning a competitive space, but about privacy.