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Apple, App Store again face accusations of anticompetitive behavior

A New York Times report says Apple targeted third-party apps designed to limit phone use after releasing its own screen-time tools. Apple refuted the report Sunday.

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about screen addiction, among other things, at the Time 100 Summit in New York on Tuesday.

Apple CEO Tim Cook talks about screen addiction, among other things, at the Time 100 Summit in New York on Tuesday.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple is facing further scrutiny over whether it's using its hold on the App Store to hurt competitors' products.

A Saturday report in The New York Times says that in the past year, Apple has targeted 11 of the 17 most downloaded third-party apps designed to help phone users limit screen time or oversee their children's phone use. Apple either removed the apps from the App Store outright or restricted them in some way, the Times reports.

Apple on Sunday refuted the report in a statement posted in its newsroom. In it, the company said it recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store because "they put users' privacy and security at risk." It had noticed some apps installed invasive mobile device management software on devices. Some apps fixed the issue and remained in the App Store. Those that didn't were removed. You can read more about that here

The iPhone maker introduced its own screen-time and parental-controls features last June when it unveiled iOS 12, the most recent major update to Apple's mobile operating system. On Friday, CEO Tim Cook discussed screen addiction at the Time 100 Summit in New York.

The Times report says the makers of two of the App Store's most popular parental control apps filed a complaint Thursday with the European Union's competition office, with one saying Apple compelled it to alter its app in ways that made it less effective than Apple's parental controls.

Last month, music-streaming service Spotify filed a complaint about Apple with European Union regulators, saying the Apple Music purveyor uses its grip on the App Store to stifle innovation, weaken competition and unfairly tax its rivals. Apple called Spotify's claims "misleading."

The iPhone maker didn't respond to CNET's request for comment on Saturday, but a spokeswoman for the company told the paper that Apple treats all apps the same, including those from competitors. The apps in question were called out because they could grab too much data from a user's device, she said, and the timing had nothing to do with the release of Apple's screen-time and parental controls features.

"Our incentive is to have a vibrant app ecosystem that provides consumers access to as many quality apps as possible," she told the Times.

Originally published April 27 at 2:28 p.m.
Update on April 28 at 7:17 p.m. PT: Adds Apple statement.