As the debate over children’s screen-time mounts, Apple has made an unexpected move by removing or restricting 11 of the 17 most downloaded apps parents can use to restrict or monitor their kids’ usage, according to an analysis by The New York Times and app-data firm Sensor Tower. Apple also clamped down on several lesser-known apps that monitored kids’ screen time.
Despite reports that this was a move to stamp out the competition, over the weekend Apple released a statement saying that it removed the parental control apps from the App Store because they “put users’ privacy and security at risk.”
Specifically, these apps were using a technology called mobile device management (MDM), which gives a third party control and access over a user’s phone or tablet. Some of that control includes access to user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history.
Apple says it has been looking into the use of MDM by non-enterprise developers since early 2017 and updated its guidelines to restrict the use of the tech in mid-2017. All of the apps were given 30 days to submit an updated platform that didn’t violate App Store policy and if they didn’t comply, were removed, according to Apple.
However, developers are saying that their apps were pulled without warning and Apple is killing the industry, according to The New York Times.
MDM does have legitimate uses, notes Apple, as some businesses install the tech on enterprise devices to better control proprietary data and hardware. But it is risky, and against App Store policies, for a private consumer-focused app to install MDM control on a customer’s device. Beyond how those devices can control users’ information, Apple says that its research found MDM profiles can be used by hackers to gain access for “malicious purposes.”
The tech giant created and released its own monitoring app, Screen Time, just last year. Meanwhile, Apple points out that other parental control and screen-time restricting apps are still available in the App Store, including Balance Screen Time by Moment Health and Verizon Smart Family.
Screen time monitoring continues to be a particularly difficult area for parents, as new research from Smarty Pants found that parents today have a closer relationship with their kids than ever before which makes it difficult to restrict online activities, so they often need digital backup.