Apple Shares More Details on Parental Control App Crackdown

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Following an email from Phil Schiller to a MacRumors reader yesterday addressing a report from The New York Times on Apple's removal of a number of App Store apps focused on screen time monitoring and parental controls, Apple has issued a public statement sharing additional perspective on the situation.


The statement, entitled "The facts about parental control apps," is very similar in its details to the email from Schiller, highlighting how Apple "became aware" over the last year that these apps were using Mobile Device Management (MDM) technology to monitor all of the activity occurring on the user's device or devices used by their family members.

MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to manage their company-owned devices, and Apple says the use of MDM by consumer-focused apps carries privacy and security concerns that resulted in Apple addressing the situation in its App Store review guidelines in mid-2017.

Apple says that it notified developers of apps affected by its crackdown on this disallowed usage of MDM, giving them 30 days to modify their apps before pulling them from the App Store.
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.
Apple also directly addressed observations in this weekend's report that the move gives the appearance of anticompetitive behavior:
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.
While Apple is firm in stating that competition did not play a role in its crackdown on these apps, the timing is certainly curious. Apple began the crackdown shortly after rolling out its Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last September, despite several of these apps having used MDM for a number of years.


Developers quoted in The New York Times and who have spoken to MacRumors have also expressed frustration with Apple's original communication on the issue. The developers detailed multiple attempts to obtain more information on exactly what changes needed to be made to their apps, but Apple's support staff reportedly either failed to respond or provided unhelpful and non-specific responses before pulling the affected apps.

Article Link: Apple Shares More Details on Parental Control App Crackdown
 

rjp1

macrumors 6502
Mar 27, 2015
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Screentime is missing a major feature: ability to request unlock remotely versus having to do it on the device directly.
 
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coolfactor

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Hey Phil, while you are at it, why not fix all the bugs and glitches associated with the screen time feature?
Care to share a few specific examples?

Screen Time has worked flawlessly for me, but I'm not managing child devices. Maybe that's where your supposed flaws are?
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Screentime is missing a major feature: ability to request unlock remotely versus having to do it on the device directly.
Give us a scenario. Remote Unlock would be a very scary feature that bypasses the strong measures in place.
 

Tapiture

macrumors 65816
Oct 1, 2016
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Apple was smart in the way that they responded to this article. I hope that they do take one other thing from it and improve their relationships and responsiveness to app developers. After all, much of the App Store's success is expressly because of the developers, and they earn a hefty amount of $$ for Apple.
 

briko

macrumors newbie
Oct 20, 2015
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If it's true that developers were abusing MDM, then it highlights a long-existing problem with the App store: the shoddy app review process. This certainly is not the first time that Apple removed existing apps after they "became aware" that some feature was being abused. Often times, Apple is the one making these features available to developers, so it's especially shocking that they can't more easily identify this abuse.

That 30% cut Apple takes from every transaction is supposedly there to support the App Store ecosystem. The review process is supposed to be screening apps for quality and conformance to rules and guidelines. Where is all that money going? It certainly isn't going into app discovery or search functionality. To this day, I can search for an app by name, but the top result is an advertisement for something completely different. That's the kind of thing you'd expect from Google, not form from a service that already collects a sizable portion of revenue from the developers on the platform.
 

Exile714

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Jan 14, 2015
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Apple Developers: “We have developers using methods that are dangerous to users’ privacy/security, but they’re using it for parental controls that wouldn’t exist otherwise.”
“Well we can’t just shut them down, that would make us look like we don’t care about parental controls.”
“Ok, so let’s bake in our own version so it can be secure, and give those third party developers a good amount of warning with a decent grace period.”

MacRumors: “Timing is suspicious.”
 

I7guy

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Nov 30, 2013
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Gotta be in it to win it
If it's true that developers were abusing MDM, then it highlights a long-existing problem with the App store: the shoddy app review process. This certainly is not the first time that Apple removed existing apps after they "became aware" that some feature was being abused. Often times, Apple is the one making these features available to developers, so it's especially shocking that they can't more easily identify this abuse.

That 30% cut Apple takes from every transaction is supposedly there to support the App Store ecosystem. The review process is supposed to be screening apps for quality and conformance to rules and guidelines. Where is all that money going? It certainly isn't going into app discovery or search functionality. To this day, I can search for an app by name, but the top result is an advertisement for something completely different. That's the kind of thing you'd expect from Google, not form from a service that already collects a sizable portion of revenue from the developers on the platform.
Similar to windows shouldn’t have any bugs or security holes since Microsoft has been doing this for the better part of thirty years.
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Apple is obviously trying to avoid an investigation into their anti competitive actions. More than one group has accused apple of anti competitive behavior. Innocent until proven guilty doesn't mean no investigation should take place.
There's already a case up in SCOTUS land that is scheduled for a decision in summer. We will see. And just because you believe Apple has been engaged in anti-competitive behavior doesn’t mean they did.
 
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realtuner

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Apple is obviously trying to avoid an investigation into their anti competitive actions. More than one group has accused apple of anti competitive behavior. Innocent until proven guilty doesn't mean no investigation should take place.
Except there are no anti-competitive actions. Just whiny developers who got caught abusing enterprise certificates looking to shift the blame to Apple. They’ve all copied the Daniel Ek (Spotify CEO) playbook of whine.
 

M2M

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Jan 12, 2009
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I find it good that apple is fixing the abuse of MDM and screen time. Meanwhile they should also crack down on apps which abuse screen recording !
 
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briko

macrumors newbie
Oct 20, 2015
23
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Similar to windows shouldn’t have any bugs or security holes since Microsoft has been doing this for the better part of thirty years.
Bugs? Security holes? I'm sorry, but this is completely different. Developers are misusing known enterprise features. It doesn't sound too different from the misuse that took Facebook's internal apps offline a few months ago. Apple makes these enterprise features available to the developers, so is it really unrealistic for them to monitor who is using them and how they are being used?

Just to clarify, I believe Apple was correct to remove these offending apps. However, I also believe that they never should have been approved in the first place. At the very least, they should have stopped approving apps when they specifically changed the review guidelines in 2017 when they "discovered" developers were abusing MDF. Yet, the original article states that apps were still being pulled throughout last year.

I want the app store to flourish, but I don't think Apple is beyond criticism. They bring in enough money to be held to a higher standard.
 

BugHunter

macrumors member
Mar 18, 2007
39
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If it's true that developers were abusing MDM, then it highlights a long-existing problem with the App store: the shoddy app review process.
Not that the App Store is perfect, but what you say isn't relevant.
MDM Apps aren't installed via the App Store and don't go through the traditional review process. They're meant to be internally developed Apps that have no use outside of a business and therefore don't need to be in a store. Apple is revoking these companies abilities to make "private" apps, as they then distributing the apps (but not via the store).
 
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briko

macrumors newbie
Oct 20, 2015
23
113
Not that the App Store is perfect, but what you say isn't relevant.
MDM Apps aren't installed via the App Store and don't go through the traditional review process. They're meant to be internally developed Apps that have no use outside of a business and therefore don't need to be in a store. Apple is revoking these companies abilities to make "private" apps, as they then distributing the apps (but not via the store).
I do understand that the intent of MDM is for developing internal enterprise apps that are not released on the App store. However, the previous MacRumors article seems to state that these apps were indeed released on (and subsequently removed from) the Apple App Store. Hence, the abuse of MDM.

This is from the first line in the previous article:

Earlier today, a report from The New York Times highlighted Apple's removal of a number of App Store apps that had allowed users to monitor usage of their devices or those used by their children.
I could certainly be mistaken about this, but my statements were made based on the above.
 

genovelle

macrumors 6502a
May 8, 2008
991
753



Following an email from Phil Schiller to a MacRumors reader yesterday addressing a report from The New York Times on Apple's removal of a number of App Store apps focused on screen time monitoring and parental controls, Apple has issued a public statement sharing additional perspective on the situation.


The statement, entitled "The facts about parental control apps," is very similar in its details to the email from Schiller, highlighting how Apple "became aware" over the last year that these apps were using Mobile Device Management (MDM) technology to monitor all of the activity occurring on the user's device or devices used by their family members.

MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to manage their company-owned devices, and Apple says the use of MDM by consumer-focused apps carries privacy and security concerns that resulted in Apple addressing the situation in its App Store review guidelines in mid-2017.

Apple says that it notified developers of apps affected by its crackdown on this disallowed usage of MDM, giving them 30 days to modify their apps before pulling them from the App Store.Apple also directly addressed observations in this weekend's report that the move gives the appearance of anticompetitive behavior:While Apple is firm in stating that competition did not play a role in its crackdown on these apps, the timing is certainly curious. Apple began the crackdown shortly after rolling out its Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last September, despite several of these apps having used MDM for a number of years.


Developers quoted in The New York Times and who have spoken to MacRumors have also expressed frustration with Apple's original communication on the issue. The developers detailed multiple attempts to obtain more information on exactly what changes needed to be made to their apps, but Apple's support staff reportedly either failed to respond or provided unhelpful and non-specific responses before pulling the affected apps.

Article Link: Apple Shares More Details on Parental Control App Crackdown
Sounds like it simple as to what needs to be changed. Don’t use the MDM platform for customers.
 
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briko

macrumors newbie
Oct 20, 2015
23
113
Not that the App Store is perfect, but what you say isn't relevant.
MDM Apps aren't installed via the App Store and don't go through the traditional review process. They're meant to be internally developed Apps that have no use outside of a business and therefore don't need to be in a store. Apple is revoking these companies abilities to make "private" apps, as they then distributing the apps (but not via the store).
Actually, I just finished reading Apple's public statement on the matter. To the contrary, apps that used MDM were indeed submitted and approved through the App Store. I reiterate that such apps shouldn't have been approved through the App Store in the first place. At the very least, I feel that it should have stopped happening when Apple acknowledged the issue back in 2017.

It just makes me question how valuable their review process is. Apple's ecosystem and walled garden are the supposed reasons they can command a 30% cut from developers. I certainly don't expect them to be perfect, but I think it's valid to raise questions when that service falters.
 

rjp1

macrumors 6502
Mar 27, 2015
289
746
Care to share a few specific examples?

Screen Time has worked flawlessly for me, but I'm not managing child devices. Maybe that's where your supposed flaws are?
[doublepost=1556505098][/doublepost]

Give us a scenario. Remote Unlock would be a very scary feature that bypasses the strong measures in place.
What? You can do everything remotely.
I have it enabled on my kids' phones. Sometimes on weekends we extend the time the kids get to use their devices. Last night I was out to dinner with my wife and my daughter called me and asked to unlock Netflix. I would have been fine with her using the app, but I didn't want to give her the PIN.

They can request to buy something in the app store remotely from the parent account (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201089). They should be able to request more screen time and get a popup on parents' devices in a similar way.

I told her I'd unlock her Nintendo Switch instead. Nintendo is known for being way behind in online functionality. So it is surprising that even they knew to include remote parental control management to their app.