Last year, Apple href = “https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/05/apple-puts-third-party-screen-time-apps-on-notice/”> removed a number of screen times and parental controls from apps the App Store, shortly after the company released its own first-party screen time solution with the launch of iOS 12. At today’s antitrust hearing, Apple CEO Tim Cook was questioned about the anti-competitive effects of the move.
Shortly after Apple launched its own Screen Time feature set, several third-party app manufacturers suddenly saw that their own Screen Time solutions were being reviewed in the App Store. For many apps, their app updates were also rejected or their apps completely removed. The affected developers had used a number of methods to track screen time because there was no official means to do so. This included the use of background locations, VPNs, and MDM-based solutions, and sometimes a combination of methods.
Apple defended its decision at the time, saying the move had compromised users̵
However, lawmakers questioned Apple’s decision to suddenly address the privacy threats posed by these apps, many of which have been around for years.
MP Lucy McBath (GA-D) started the survey by reading an email from a mother who wrote Apple about her disappointment with the removal of apps to protect children and protect their mental health and well-being. “Then she asked why Apple removed apps from competitors shortly after its own screen time solution was released.
Cook’s response was similar to that of Apple last year, saying the company was concerned about “children’s privacy and security” and the technology that the apps used was problematic.
“The technology used at the time was called MDM and had the ability to take over the child’s screen and a third party could see it,” said Cook. “So we worried about your safety.”
This may not be the most accurate description of how MDM works, since MDM is described as a sneaky remote control tool. In reality, MDM technology has legitimate uses in the mobile ecosystem and is still used today. However, it was developed for use in companies – for example, for managing a fleet of employee devices, e.g. B. not for consumer phones. MDM tools can access a device’s location, control app usage, send email, and set various permissions, among other things that a business unit may want to perform as part of its efforts to secure employee devices.
In a way, this was the reason for parents who wanted to control and lock their children’s iPhones in a similar way. Although it wasn’t consumer technology, the app developers had seen a hole in the market and found a way to fill it with the tools at their disposal. This is how the market works.
However, Apple’s argument is not wrong. The way the apps used MDM was a privacy risk. But instead of banning the apps directly, it should have offered them an alternative. That is, instead of just turning off the competition, it should create a developer API for its iOS Screen Time solution in addition to the consumer-oriented product.
Such an API could have allowed developers to create apps that could use Apple’s own screen time functions and parental controls. Apple could have given the apps a deadline to transition instead of ending their business. This would have done no harm to developers or their end users, and would have eliminated the privacy concerns associated with third-party apps.
“The timing of the move appears to be very random,” said McBath. “If Apple hasn’t tried to harm competitors to help its own app, why did Phil Schiller, who runs the App Store, advertise the Screen Time app to customers who have complained about removing competing parental control apps? “She said asked.
Cook replied that there are over 30 screen time apps in the app store today, so there is “a lively competition for parental controls.”
McBath noted, however, that some blocked apps could be reinstated in the App Store six months later without significant privacy changes.
“Six months is really an eternity for small businesses that need to be closed. Even worse if a larger competitor actually takes customers away, ”she said.
Tim Cook had no opportunity to continue answering this question when the McBath questioned Apple’s refusal to allow Random House to sell e-books in its own app outside of Apple’s iBooks.
Cook declined to answer the question, saying, “There are many reasons why the app may not initially go through the App Store.” It could be a technical problem.