Parental Control App Developers Urge Apple to Make Screen Time APIs Available for Third-Party Apps

Last weekend, The New York Times reported that Apple has removed or restricted many of the most popular screen time and parental control apps on the App Store since launching its own Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last year, raising concerns over potentially anticompetitive behavior.


Apple was quick to respond. In both an email to a concerned customer and a press release, Apple indicated that it became aware over the last year that some parental control apps were using a technology called Mobile Device Management or "MDM" that puts users' privacy and security at risk.

MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to manage their company-owned devices, and Apple says the use of MDM by consumer-focused apps carries privacy and security concerns that resulted in Apple addressing the situation in its ‌App Store‌ review guidelines in mid-2017.

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

Apple added that when it found out about these ‌App Store‌ guideline violations, it communicated with the necessary developers, giving them 30 days to submit an updated app to avoid being removed from the ‌App Store‌.

In the days since, a handful of developers behind parental control apps including Qustodio, Kidslox, OurPact, and Mobicip have responded to Apple's press release with open letters, calling for the company to make the APIs behind its Screen Time feature available to the public for use in third-party apps.

Eduardo Cru, co-founder of Qustodio:

If safety is such a great concern to Apple, why not share the APIs used in Apple's own Screen Time competitive service and instantly make the environment safer and open for everyone?

Viktor Yevpak, co-founder of Kidslox:

Ultimately, making the "Screen Time" API's public is the solution to this issue which would truly prove Apple's commitment to the safety and welfare of children. This would allow 3rd party developers like us to create effective products that give users genuine choices, while also complying with Apple's self-set standards.

OurPact:

If Apple truly believes that parents should have tools to manage their children's device usage, and are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem, then they will also provide open API's for developers to utilize. Now, more than ever, the focus should be on building better and more diverse solutions for families to choose from.

Suren Ramasubbu, co-founder of Mobicip:

Knowing that parental controls apps using MDM have been around for years, wouldn't it have been a better option for Apple to support an officially supported API before pulling the plug?

Tony Fadell, a senior executive at Apple in the 2000s, agrees that Apple should create and provide developers with APIs for Screen Time.


The developers also refute parts of Apple's press release, with OurPact claiming that its parental control app for children was removed from the ‌App Store‌ on October 6, 2018 without any prior communication from Apple, just three weeks after iOS 12 was publicly released with Screen Time.

Three out of four of the developers add that Apple was slow to respond and did not provide any resolution for the sudden guideline violations.

While Apple is firm in stating that competition did not play a role in its crackdown on these apps, the timing is certainly curious. Many of the removals occurred shortly after Apple rolled out its Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last September, despite several of these apps having used MDM for a number of years.

At face value, public APIs for Screen Time does appear like a viable solution for both the privacy and security of users and ensuring a competitive landscape on the ‌App Store‌. Whether that happens remains to be seen.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
14 months ago
As a parent, I don't give smartphones and tablets to my little kids. That's parental control in action.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
14 months ago
As a parent of 2 kids who uses OurPact, I sure hope they get this resolved.

OurPact has been the gold standard for parental control for some time. The interface is Apple simple and intuitive...though the setup process isn't. But to be fair - has anyone taken a look at what it *really* takes to lock down a kids phone using screen time and parental controls from Apple? It's a heck of a slog to get it all set up...and you pretty much have to have the device in hand to make changes.

Nice thing about OurPact is that I can make changes in allowed apps, grant and block use any time from my device...theirs could be a continent away.

My wife and I both use OurPact and have for quite a while now, it gives us a good level of comfort that our kids are safe on the internet (safari is blocked!) and the "just one more thing..." in minecraft has been cut to nothing..when time is up, it's up.

I realize you can do similar/the same things in the Apple controls, but OurPact is popular for a reason...it's easy to use and does what it says.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
14 months ago
So, they want Apple to create APIs that give developers unprecedented access to a users device and how they use it?

Not gonna happen. Apple doesn’t even give developers access to your phone call log or text messages, and they think Apple will allow this?
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
14 months ago
Apple can do whatever they want in terms of making screen time available for third parties.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
14 months ago

Providing an API doesn't automatically grant "unprecedented developers access to a users device".
An API gives an app the ability to control certain functions of the device. Apple can write the API to prevent usage data from going to an unauthorized device (Developer).

Screentime collects the child's usage data and provide it to an authorized device (parent's device in this case). That is a transfer between authorized/authenticated devices.

I know what an API does.

MDM gives developers "unprecedented access". These developers were using MDM. Do you think they'll be happy with restricted APIs from Apple that offer a very limited subset of what they were used to getting before?

For example, I mentioned the phone log or text messages. Apple doesn't allow developers access to these areas because of the potential for abuse. One of the selling features of Qustodio (one of the companies who filed a complaint with the EU) is the ability to monitor calls and messages. That ability will never exist for developers.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
14 months ago

Apple can do whatever they want in terms of making screen time available for third parties.

And people can do whatever they want to respond to Apple's self-selfing business practices, such as buying 30% fewer iPhones vs last year.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

'This App is No Longer Shared' iOS Bug Preventing Some Apps From Opening

Friday May 22, 2020 3:58 pm PDT by
An app bug is causing some iOS users to be unable to open their apps, with affected iPhone and iPad users seeing the message "This app is no longer shared with you" when attempting to access an app. There are multiple complaints about the issue on the MacRumors forums and on Twitter from users who are running into problems. A MacRumors reader describes the issue:Is anyone else experiencing...

Apple Reissuing Numerous iOS App Updates, Potentially Related to Recent 'This App is No Longer Shared' Bug

Sunday May 24, 2020 9:13 pm PDT by
Over the past few hours, a number of MacRumors readers have reported seeing dozens or even hundreds of pending app updates showing in the App Store on their iOS devices, including for many apps that were already recently updated by the users. In many cases, the dates listed on these new app updates extend back as far as ten days. Apple has not shared any information as to why updates for...

Top Stories: Apple Glass and iPhone 12 Rumors, iOS 13.5 Update, and More!

Saturday May 23, 2020 6:00 am PDT by
It was another big week for rumors this week, with a flurry of reports about Apple's augmented reality glasses, the iPhone 12, and Apple's "AirPods Studio" over-ear headphones. This week also saw the release of iOS 13.5, bringing a number of health-related updates to Apple's mobile devices. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Other topics of interest this week included ...

Apple's 'Bounce' AirPods Ad Wins 'Best of Advertising' Award

Friday May 22, 2020 10:09 am PDT by
Apple's creative "Bounce" ad designed to highlight the AirPods took top honors in the 99th annual ADC (Art Director's Club) awards for advertising, earning the "Best of Discipline" award along with two Gold Cube awards in the craft in video and branded content categories. Released in June 2019, the ad features a bored man who pulls his AirPods off of their wireless charging pad and then pops ...

Jailbreak Tool 'unc0ver' 5.0 Released With iOS 13.5 Compatibility

Sunday May 24, 2020 3:06 pm PDT by
The team behind the "unc0ver" jailbreaking tool for iOS has released version 5.0.0 of its software that claims to have the ability to jailbreak "every signed iOS version on every device" using a zero-day kernel vulnerability by Pwn20wnd, a renowned iOS hacker. The announcement comes just days after it was announced that the tool would soon launch. The unc0ver website highlights how the tool...

Apple's 'AirPods Studio' Over-Ear Headphones Have Reportedly Kicked Off Production

Friday May 22, 2020 7:03 am PDT by
We've been hearing quite a bit recently about Apple's long-rumored over-ear headphones, said to be called "AirPods Studio," and it looks like a launch may be coming in the relatively near future. Artist mockup based on Beats Studio3 Rumors have generally suggested a summer or fall launch for AirPods Studio, with a report earlier this week claiming that suppliers in Vietnam will begin...

Future AirPods to Include 'Ambient Light Sensors' Possibly Related to Rumored Health Features

Monday May 25, 2020 2:53 am PDT by
Apple is reportedly looking to integrate light sensors in a new model of AirPods in the next couple of years, according to a new report today, suggesting their use could be part of rumored upcoming health monitoring features in the true wireless earbuds. In a paywalled article, DigiTimes reports that ASE Technology could be involved in manufacturing the sensors: Apple is expected to...

'Apple Glass' Rumored to Start at $499, Support Prescription Lenses, and More

Tuesday May 19, 2020 6:30 am PDT by
Front Page Tech host and leaker Jon Prosser today shared several alleged details about Apple's rumored augmented reality glasses, including an "Apple Glass" marketing name, $499 starting price, prescription lens option, and more. The marketing name will be "Apple Glass" The glasses will start at $499 with the option for prescription lenses at an extra cost There will be displays in both...

Former iOS Chief Scott Forstall Shares Intriguing Story of His Interview With Steve Jobs at NeXT

Friday May 22, 2020 4:01 am PDT by
Former Apple executive and iOS chief Scott Forstall made a rare public appearance this week at Code.org's virtual Code Break event, and in between classes, Forstall shared the intriguing story of how he was hired by Steve Jobs. Forstall revealed that he had been considering working at Microsoft when he went to interview at NexT, the company started by Jobs after he had left Apple. Forstall...

Apple Memorial Day Deals: Shop the Best Apple Accessory Sales From Twelve South, eBay, Anker, Mophie, and More

Friday May 22, 2020 6:39 am PDT by
We're now just a few days away from Memorial Day on Monday, May 25, and numerous retailers have opened up discounts in celebration of the holiday. This includes sales on helpful Apple-related accessories like Anker's portable batteries, Beats headphones at eBay, Incase and Incipio's protective iPad and iPhone cases, Mophie's iPhone battery cases, JBL's Bluetooth speakers, and much more. Note:...