Apple goes after third party Screen Time apps in arbitrary fashion

By Digit NewsDesk | Published on Dec 06 2018
Apple goes after third party Screen Time apps in arbitrary fashion

Apple has started to remove third-party screen time apps from App Store citing guidelines that have been in place for years, but so have the apps.

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Apple introduced the much-needed Screen Time feature in iOS that allows users to track their smartphone usage habits. However, more importantly, Screen Time allowed parents to set restrictions on their child’s iPhone with regards to how long they can use certain apps and how much total “screen time” they get in general. The feature has been extremely handy but is still limited and buggy in many ways, but for the most part, it is helpful. Interestingly, third-party apps have been offering the same features and far more through their apps for years and all of a sudden, Apple has decided to go after some of them.

According to an exhaustive report by Tech Crunch, Apple has started sending out notices and in some cases, even removing apps from the App Store that offer Screen Time like functionality. As of now, Apple doesn’t provide any APIs or ways in which Screen Time can be measured, so third-party apps have relied on VPNs and Mobile Device Management (MDM)-based solutions. According to Apple’s Developer Guidelines, this constitutes a use of Public APIs in an unapproved manner and hence, justifies the removal of offending apps. According to Tech Crunch, Mute and Space, two apps that offer Screen Time like functionality for parents to monitor their kids’ time on the smartphone were removed citing the above violation but later reinstated. Some developers like those of the App Moment were lucky enough to simply get a call from Apple, be asked a few questions which they answered to Cupertino’s satisfaction and that was that.

Some developers, however, were not lucky at all. Viktor Yevpak, CEO of Kidslox said that the VPN method was necessary for his app to work since Apple does not provide any official API to do the same. While his app is still listed in the App Store, Apple has continued to approve any further app updates, effectively warranting the app to shut down. The company took to their blog to call Apple out on the new crackdown. Another app impacted by this new crackdown is OurPact which has been present on the App Store for four years and leverages MDM for its functionality. They have now been informed that they can no longer use the functionality to run their app. While the parent app will not be impacted, the company says that their child app may no longer function due to Apple’s new move. Probably the worst impacted would be apps like ACTIVATE Fitness who used MDM to implement screen time and now has to shut down. App Creator Andrew Armour said that he sank his entire life’s savings into developing ACTIVATE Fitness, an app that would help families better regulate screen time while also promoting physical activity has been rejected by Apple, bringing his two-year journey to an end.

There are various allegations flying around that Apple wants to be the only player in the Screen Time space for iOS, given their arbitrary implementation of App Store and Developer guidelines, while others say that Apple has every right to implement the rules whenever and however they want. Motives aside, it is clear that users will now have fewer options for controlling their child’s Screen Time, with most being forced to turn to Apple’s own solution which itself is flawed and lacking in many ways.


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