Did Apple remove parental control apps from the App Store to promote its own?

Parental control applications and software have been in use for quite some time now. These apps help parents in monitoring their children. It helps parents keep track of the screen time of their child, what they view online, who they talk to, among other things. Parents can also monitor emails, browsing history, messages, calls, location, and much more. There is no doubt about the benefits of these apps. Parents have relied upon these apps to ensure that their children use these devices for their benefit. With the volume of information available on the internet, it is easy for kids to gain access to inappropriate content.

For this purpose and to limit screen time, third-party apps have become quite popular among parents. However, recently, Apple pulled down several apps from the App Store.

An article by The New York Times states that Apple has “restricted at least 11 out of the 17 most downloaded screen time and parental control apps.” Developers of parental control apps, as well as parents, have criticized this move made by Apple.

A mother of an autistic child posted an article about how Apple’s crackdown will make it more difficult to limit her child’s screen time. She says, “Since my son is highly gifted as well as autistic, it takes that many tools to keep him away from the sites and activities that trigger anxiety and meltdowns.” She further mentions parents who homeschool their children need parental monitoring application. These tools block apps during certain times of the day so children can focus on educational apps and resources. With apps such as OurPact no longer available on App Store, the author claims, she wouldn’t be able to schedule apps for specific times of the day.

The New York Times interviewed several companies whose parental control apps were removed by Apple. Many of them say that Apple’s actions are driving them out of business. Apple, however, did give developers a 30-day deadline to update the app according to the new regulations. While Apple may think that it gave a fair warning to developers, many have argued that Apple did not provide clear guidelines regarding the updates that were required.

The article also pointed out that Apple has pulled down these apps in a bid to promote its screen time tools. Executives of the third-party apps have suggested that Apple has targetted their apps because they threaten Apple’s business.

In reply to The New York Times article, Apple released a statement. Apple reasoned that “they put users’ privacy and security at risk.” According to Apple third-party parental control apps use “a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management. This feature of cell phone monitoring apps is acceptable for companies to protect their data and hardware, but is not acceptable for parental use. MDM allows people to gain access to location, email, messages, camera, application activity, and browser history. Apple says that this puts the device at risk of hackers and malicious software that tries to access personal information. The statement references The New York Times article and says, “Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security.”

Apple only introduced parental control and screen time limits after it received backlash from two investors. They pushed the tech giant to add regulations to control screen time for children. Apple released its screen time and parental control features when Apple released iOS 12. It claims that users can control the time they spend on their phones. The latest iOS version also provides users with insights regarding the time they spend on individual apps. The App Limits feature can be used to set a specific time for an app. It also provides notification to the user before the time limit for an app exceeds.

These features make it seem as if Apple is trying to help its users cut down on screen time. But many users of third-party parental control apps have argued that these features are not enough. For example, with Apple’s control features, parents cannot block and schedule the use of apps during a certain time of day.

Furthermore, the entire family should own an iPhone, in the case parents want to monitor their child’s screen time. Whereas, third-party parental control apps can be used on different devices and face no restrictions when it comes to monitoring a device other than iOS.

Also, Apple’s screen time features do not block certain apps if the time limit exceeds. This feature is not enough for parents who want to limit their children’s screen time.

This is not the first time that Apple has tried to limit the influence of apps on the App Store. Spotify, the popular streaming app filed a complaint with the European Commission regarding Apple’s regulation. Spotify claims that Apple blocks the platform from updating the app. It has also tried to remove and discourage the app from Apple products such as Siri and Apple Watch. Also, Apple charges 30% of the payments made through the App Store. This forces Spotify to charge their customers more. Spotify’s CEO, Daniel Ek, says that App Store should be a level playing field for innovators. With Apple’s restrictions, this is not possible.

Parental control apps are a necessity these days. Without these measures in place, parents will have a hard time in monitoring their children’s online activities. Modern problems require modern solutions. For this reason, Apple needs to provide a platform for third-party apps to provide solutions to problems created by technology.

Innovation is a collaborative process, and it does not produce results if one chooses to thwart the progress of another.

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