With the growing ubiquity of smartphones in everyday life, it’s unsurprising that users are forming bad habits and even addictions with their devices that ultimately affect their mental wellbeing.
In response, there have been a number of developers making apps to limit an individual’s phone usage, even tech giants such as Google have introduced similar features for their own products, but a recent report from The New York Times suggests that Apple has been combating these services in its App Store.
Apple is another tech giant to have its own usage tracking software, with the Screen Time function seeing its release in iOS 12, but the Times’ report suggests that the Cupertino firm has made it deliberately difficult to run a competing app for the iPhone.
“Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps”, the report reads. “Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy.”
When speaking with the developers of the affected apps, the Times’ noted that the “executives at the app makers believe they are being targeted because their apps could hurt Apple’s business. Apple’s tools, they add, aren’t as aggressive about limiting screen time and don’t provide as many options.”
Apple’s vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller has responded to a question from a MacRumors reader addressing the issue, claiming that the apps in question were using a format that was fundamentally unsecure for their users.
The apps utilized MDM (Mobile Device Management) in order to track every user action on their iPhone, a technology that was intended to be used purely for companies wishing to install their own software on employee devices in order to monitor their usage.
The system would allow the developers of such monitoring apps to “have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device, know their location, track their app use, control their mail accounts, web surfing, camera use, network access, and even remotely erase their devices”, according to Schiller’s response.
Apple, upon learning of the misuse of MDM technology, since contacted the app developers who were employing it in order to ask them to stop, according to Schiller, although he doesn’t mention explicitly what actions were taken after that.
While it is well-known that Apple prides itself on its users’ security, it's understandable why developers are seeing the timing of the removal of their competing addiction-breaking apps as suspicious.