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After flap, Apple quietly reverses course for some parental-control apps

Following accusations of anticompetitive behavior, Apple changes direction for some parental-control apps in its App Store. It also limits third-party tracking.

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Apple's new App Store guidelines will limit what developers of kids apps can access.

James Martin/CNET

Apple's continued push for privacy control went further than Monday's WWDC announcement of the new sign-in with Apple offering. In a less publicized update, the tech giant also adjusted its App Store guidelines.

Among the new updates, Apple revealed that apps designed for kids or in the "kids" category of the App Store can no longer "include third-party advertising or analytics software and may not transmit data to third parties." The update comes a week after The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple would limit third-party app tracking inside kids apps in the App Store.

Apple's policy update also reverses a decision made in April to ban parental-control apps that use mobile device management, or MDM, software. These apps are now allowed but are restricted from selling, using or disclosing user data to third parties. 

In April, The New York Times reported that Apple and the App Store were again facing accusations of anticompetitive behavior. The report focused on the App Store's removal of a number of third-party apps designed to help parents limit screen time or oversee their children's phone use. Apple had earlier released its own screen-time and parental-controls features. A back-and-forth followed, with Apple saying it removed the apps for security reasons, not competition, and the developer of one of the apps calling Apple's response misleading.

The tweak to the App Store guidelines also comes the same day that news broke of a potential probe of Apple by the US Department of Justice as part of a broader antitrust review of giant tech companies. On Monday at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, CEO Tim Cook said Apple isn't a monopoly but that "the scrutiny is fair."

In a Monday story about the App Store changes, the Times said an Apple spokeswoman had declined to say why the company had reversed its decision about the MDM apps. Apple didn't immediately respond to CNET's request for comment.

The new App Store rules apply immediately to new apps seeking entrance to the store. Existing apps will have to support the guidelines by Sept. 3.

Get caught upEverything Apple announced at WWDC 2019

Expanding its data restrictions in the name of privacy control has been a growing priority for Apple. In addition to the "sign-in with Apple" announcement, the company has stressed privacy in many of its recent services, including the forthcoming Apple Arcade, Apple Card and Apple TV Plus.

The new App Store guidelines also prohibit apps that "facilitate purchase of ammunition," and they limit what can be done with data from VPN apps.

Originally published June 3, 6:21 p.m. PT.
Update, June 4: Adds background info on MDM apps.