One of the parental-control apps removed from the App Store fired back on Wednesday at Apple's explanation of why the app was banned.
OurPact argued that its app should be reinstated and should be allowed to use technology that enables parents to control what their children access on their Apple devices.
A report in The New York Times from Saturday said 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 said. That included OurPact, which the Times said is the top parental-control iPhone app, with more than 3 million downloads. The Times said OurPact makes about 80% of its revenue from the App Store.
Apple on Sunday, saying it recently removed several parental-control apps from the App Store because "they put users' privacy and security at risk." Over the past year, Apple said, it became aware that several of the apps utilized mobile device management (MDM) software. This "gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions and browsing history." Apple said it was a violation of App Store guidelines.
OurPact published a blog post Wednesday that disputed Apple's statement. The company laid out a detailed record of communication with Apple (for instance, on Oct. 6: "Apple removes the OurPact child app from the App Store without any prior communication"). OurPact also sought to explain what MDM software is by contradicting Apple's recent statements with the iPhone maker's own documentation about the technology.
"Unfortunately, Apple's statement is misleading and prevents a constructive conversation around the future of parental controls on iOS," the company wrote. "Our hope is that Apple will work with developers in this space so that families continue to have a wide selection of parental controls to choose from."
Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Monitoring screen time
The iPhone maker introduced its own screen-time and parental-control features last year when it unveiled iOS 12, the most recent major update to its mobile operating system. Last week, CEO Tim Cook discussed screen addiction at the Time 100 Summit in New York.
Apple's Screen Time feature followed backlash from investors and users over concerns about phone addiction among children. Two of Apple's major shareholders published an open letter in January 2018 that asked Apple to take a socially responsible approach toward children's interactions with devices. It cited concerns about mental health problems and other issues that come from heavy phone use.
The Times report on Saturday said 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.
MDM software is often used by businesses to easily manage and control their employees' devices, but Apple said that in mid-2017 it updated its guidelines about the use of MDM for nonenterprise purposes.
"It is incredibly risky -- and a clear violation of App Store policies -- for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer's device," Apple said in Sunday's statement. "Beyond the control that the app itself can exert over the user's device, research has shown that MDM profiles could be used by hackers to gain access for malicious purposes."
Apple said it gave the app developers 30 days to fix the guideline violations. Several did, but the others that didn't had their apps removed from the App Store, Apple said. In its blog post Wednesday, OurPact said it didn't receive any notice before its app was removed by Apple.
OurPact said it's committed to data protection and user privacy. It doesn't sell or provide user data to third parties, the company said.
It does, however, use MDM technology, OurPact said, "to give parents more freedom to manage their children's mobile devices." The company said its core functionality wouldn't be possible without MDM, and from February 2015 until October 2018, Apple had approved the use of MDM in its app 37 times.
"It is the only API available for the Apple platform that enables the remote management of applications and functions on children's devices," OurPact said. "We have also been transparent about our use of this technology since the outset, and have documented its use in our submissions to the App Store."
The company added that there's no way for a maker of a parental-control app to remove MDM functionality and still have a working product. It noted that during a conversation with Apple, the tech giant said it wouldn't allow apps that block other apps. A key part of parental-control apps is allowing caregivers to limit what apps their children access and how often they use them.
"If Apple offered alternate APIs to achieve the robust parental controls that OurPact provides we would happily use them," OurPact wrote. "Unfortunately, no such API exists. All attempts to open a dialogue with Apple to create those APIs have also been refused."
The company asked that Apple reinstate its app.
"If Apple truly believes that parents should have tools to manage their children's device usage, and are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem, then they will also provide open API's for developers to utilize," OurPact said. "Now, more than ever, the focus should be on building better and more diverse solutions for families to choose from."