Apple announced Screen Time, a tool to monitor usage and amount of time spent on the device, in June last year. The feature was introduced as part of iOS 12 after two prominent Wall Street investors raised concerns about the addictive nature of smartphones. However, a new report highlights how the iPhone maker began purging apps that offer similar services soon after introducing its own tools. The move raises the issue about Apple’s anti-competitive behavior since it controls App Store, the primary means of distributing apps on iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system.
The Cupertino-based iPhone maker is already criticized by Spotify, the Swedish music streaming giant, which recently filed a complaint with European regulators. In its complaint, Spotify said that Apple used the App Store to give its Apple Music an unfair advantage over rival services. Now, developers whose screen time apps have been removed, have also filed a similar complaint. One developer said that the move came “out of the blue with no warning”. A pair of developers have filed a complaint with the European Union’s Competition Commission and Kaspersky Lab has filed a complaint against Apple in Russia.
“Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps. In some cases, Apple forced companies to remove features that allowed parents to control their children’s devices or that blocked children’s access to certain apps and adult content. In other cases, it simply pulled the apps from its App Store,” the New York Times said in its report.
Apple has responded to the criticism by claiming that it did because these apps “put users’ privacy and security at risk. It’s important to understand why and how this happened.” “Over the last year, we became aware that several of these parental control apps were using a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management, or MDM. MDM gives a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history,” the company said in its statement.
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Apple is one again using privacy as its mainline of defence against the narrative that the company penalizes app developers after it brings features into the core operating system. It is not clear whether the apps removed by the company resulted in any data breach or cross-platform issues, but Apple seems to have removed them nonetheless. App Store contributes a large share of revenue for Apple and independent developers, who are now without any business. It needs to be seen if Apple faces any penalty in Europe or other markets.