Parental Control App Developers Cry Anti-Competitive Practices Over Apple’s Screen Time Release

Apple recently released a report indicating a pan to crack down on third-party screen-time and parental-control apps. This includes some apps that are getting kicked out of the Apple store, for which Apple has issued a formal response.

Apparently developers behind some of the iPhone’s most popular apps with screen time limits have complained that Apple forced these firms to remove these very features from their apps.  And, concurrently, they forced the removal of these features around the same time that Apple introduced its new Screen Time feature, available in the iOS 12 update. More importantly, these developers note that their apps had several hundred thousand paying customers.

The report dictates “Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloadable screen-time and parental-control apps. Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy.”

Two apps, in particular—Kidslox and Qustodio—have actually taken the next step and filed legal action against Apple through the European Commission’s competition authority.  The filing is on the grounds of the company exercising anticompetitive control over its rivals. 

Now, here is where the legality gets a little tricky. In its response, Apple stated that not only is it risky but it also a “clear violation of App Store policies for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device.”

Furthermore, Apple attests that contrary to what many seem to believe, this is not a matter of competition.  “It’s a matter of security,” they insist. 

Now Apple’s own App Store guidelines state, quite simply: “Apps should use APIs and frameworks for their intended purposes and indicate that integration in their app description.” And, frankly, using MDM to track and limit phone use is not, according to Apple, its intended purpose. 

But, at the same time, Apple released an app, in 2018, called Screen Time, which does exactly the same thing that all of these apps do.  And within weeks of releasing Screen Time, 11 of the 17 most-downloaded parental control and screen-time restriction apps were removed—and also restricted—from the App Store.