With the arrival of iOS 12, Apple introduced Screen Time, a way for iOS users and parents to keep tabs on app usage and time spent on devices.
Before Screen Time, though, iOS users may have found those things in a variety of different third-party apps out there in the App Store. But, as detailed on Wednesday by TechCrunch, Apple may be starting to clean house a bit, and, as a result, whittling down the options for third-party screen trackers and parental control options.
The report outlines several different app developers who have noticed that their apps, serving specific purposes that Apple now serves in its own way, have been removed from the App Store, or seen updates for their apps denied. As for the reasons why these apps have been denied? Some developers:
“…were told they were in violation of App Store developer guideline 2.5.4, which specifies when multitasking apps are allowed to use background location. Specifically, developers were told they were ‘misusing background location mode for purposes other than location-related features.'”
Still, others were told they were violating App Store developer guideline 2.5.1, which “references using public APIs in an unapproved manner”. Other developers were apparently informed that the way they have implemented screen time features or parental controls simply aren’t permitted any longer.
One story indicates that Apple may definitely be targeting these types of apps that take advantage of Device Management (MDM) or Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to function. In one case, the app Kidslox used both of these functions to operate its own parental controls and screen time tracking. Viktor Yevpak is the CEO of the developer behind the app, and he published a video detailing the issue:
Yevpak’s team tried to update the app several times but Apple rejected those submissions. As a result, the CEO took to the blog to call out the company. The app itself is still available, but subsequent updates to it have been denied.
But, of course, there are issues:
“Apple, of course, never intended for VPNs to be used for screen time tracking or parental controls, nor did it want the enterprise-focused MDM technology to be implemented in consumer-based apps. And by permitting its use to date in apps like these, Apple had given up control over how its devices can be used by consumers.
But its policies have not matched up with its App Store approvals. Apple has greenlit — and it has been directly aware of — screen time apps using MDM in ways that violated its guidelines for years.”
Things get interesting when an unnamed source weighs in, saying that this is not Apple strictly targeting these apps, and especially not because it offers these similar features directly. This is simply Apple aiming to clean up the App Store, as it has been doing for quite some time, and flushing out apps that disregard the guidelines.
“But sources familiar with Apple’s thinking dismissed this as being some sort of targeted crackdown against third-party screen time apps. Rather, the pushback developers received was part of Apple’s ongoing app review process, they said, and noted that the rules these apps violate have been in place for years.”
Timing is everything in most cases and if it’s hard for someone to ignore the fact that Apple apparently got around to cleaning up screen time trackers and parental control apps, just after launching its own versions of these services, that would be understandable. Still, one hopes that if these specific guidelines that Apple is referencing in their denials are smoothed out, Apple actually approves them moving forward.
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