Apple has reportedly pulled a number of parental control apps from its App Store over privacy and security concerns.

After the media covered the story, Apple issued a rare public rebuttal when it insisted the move was nothing to do with removing competing apps against its Screen Time feature.

Of course Apple does periodically remove apps from its app store. Last August for example it reportedly removed illegal lottery apps from its App Store in China after criticism from state media outlets.

Parental controls

But this latest row began when the New York Times reported that over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps.

This was according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm.

Apple has also reportedly clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps that “fight iPhone addition.”

In the case of the parental control apps, in some cases, Apple allegedly 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.

“They yanked us out of the blue with no warning,” Amir Moussavian, chief executive of OurPact, the top parental-control iPhone app is quoted by the New York Times as saying.

OurPact apparently had more than three million downloads, but in February, Apple reportedly pulled the app, which accounted for 80 percent of OurPact’s revenue, from its App Store.

“They are systematically killing the industry,” Moussavian said, after the NY Times reported that management at app makers feel they are being targeted because their apps could hurt Apple’s business.

But Apple hit back when Philip W. Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said in emails to some customers that Apple “acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security.”

Apple response

Apple then went onto issue a rare public statement on the matter.

“We recently removed several parental control apps from the App Store, and we did it for a simple reason: they put users’ privacy and security at risk,” Apple said.

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,” it said. “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.”

“Parents shouldn’t have to trade their fears of their children’s device usage for risks to privacy and security, and the App Store should not be a platform to force this choice,” said Apple. “No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device.”

Apple said that when it “found out about these guideline violations”, it gave the app developers 30 days to update the app to remove the violations.

“Several developers released updates to bring their apps in line with these policies,” said Apple. “Those that didn’t were removed from the App Store.”

“Apple has always supported third-party apps on the App Store that help parents manage their kids’ devices,” Apple concluded. “Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security.”

Spotify row

Apple of course has been recently embroiled in a very public row with Spotify, after the popular music streaming service filed an anti trust complaint and accused Apple of giving its own music streaming service a leg up over the competition on the App Store.

A second complaint concerned the large fees that Apple charges for all purchases via its app store.

Apple responded to the complaint also immediately with its own hard hitting statement.

Apple said that for years Spotify had been using its App Store to dramatically grow its business, and that it was seeking to keep all the benefits of the App Store ecosystem (including hefty revenues), without making any contributions to that marketplace

Apple also fiercely criticised Spotify for the small fees it pays to artists, musicians and songwriters.

Quiz: How well do you know Apple?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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