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Apple defends itself against claims of anti-competitive practices

Key Points
  • Apple has removed several apps that enable parents to track and limit their children's screen time.
  • Apple said it was because those apps were abusing a kind of technology that enables third parties to access sensitive information including user location and the device's camera.
  • A screen time tracker is built into the iPhone software by default, and third-party app developers claimed they are being treated unfairly.
Apple chief design officer Jony Ive (L) and Apple CEO Tim Cook inspect the new iPhone XR during an Apple special event at the Steve Jobs Theatre on September 12, 2018 in Cupertino, California.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Apple said Sunday that it removed several parental control apps from its App Store platform because they put user privacy and security at risk.

The removed apps, according to Apple, were abusing a kind of technology intended for company-owned work phones called Mobile Device Management (MDM), which can give an app developer access to information including user location, browsing history, and what photos and videos have been taken with the camera.

The statement was made in response to a New York Times story that suggested Apple had pulled the apps for anti-competitive reasons.

The response, published on Apple's website, is another example of how the company is walking a tightrope given its control of the App Store and its safety and security priorities along with new accusations from politicians and rivals that Apple uses its power over the software distribution platform to favor its own apps.

Apple said in its statement that 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."

Most of the apps highlighted by the Times report enabled parents to limit the amount of the time they and their children spent on their iPhones and Android devices, and two developers have filed a complaint with the European Union's competition office.

Apple continued: "Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn't a matter of competition. It's a matter of security."

One of Apple's App Store guidelines says that "Apps should use APIs and frameworks for their intended purposes and indicate that integration in their app description." Using MDM to track and limit phone use isn't the intended purpose of MDM, Apple says.

Apple released software in 2018 called Screen Time that enables users to track which apps they use the most and restrict access to distracting apps. It's installed by default on iPhones. "I think it has become clear to all of us that some of us are spending too much time on our devices," Apple CEO Tim Cook said last summer.

In the weeks after Screen Time was released, 11 of the 17 most-downloaded screen-time and parental control apps were removed and restricted, according to the Times.

Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said earlier this year that the fact that some apps Apple develops competes with developers on the App Store is possibly anti-competitive. Spotify, which competes with Apple Music, has also accused Apple of anti-competitive practices.

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