Apple amping up purges of apps that are similar to iOS 12 Screen Time

Posted:
in iPhone edited April 27
Apple has eliminated 11 of the 17 most popular screen time monitoring and parental control apps from the App Store, and has done so with increasing frequency since it launched its own monitoring tool, Screen Time, in iOS 12.




Apple's withdrawals started arriving shortly after Screen Time arrived in iOS 12, and have progressed to more and more apps as the months have worn on. Reportedly, there has been an escalation since December, when the removals were first spotted.

"They yanked us out of the blue with no warning," Chief Executive of OurPact Amir Moussavian told the New York Times in a new report published on Saturday. "They are systematically killing the industry."

In many cases, the apps that had demands for feature removal were more full-featured than Apple's ScreenTime. Some third-party apps removed allowed for iPhone-owning parents to monitor Android devices. Others blocked in appropriate content on browsers other than Safari. Neither feature is available in Screen Time.

The move is explicitly authorized by the terms of conditions that all developers agree with, when they publish apps through the App Store. In speaking with Apple on Saturday morning, AppleInsider was told that the feature removal requests and app withdrawals fall under section 5.2.5 of the App Store app review guidelines, specifically saying "don't create an App that appears confusing similar to an existing Apple Product, interface, app, or advertising theme."

Developers have also been told that they were violating guideline 2.5.1 of the guidelines, which prohibits use of public APIs in an unapproved manner.

Some rejection letters seen by AppleInsider since the original December report inform developers that the apps, as submitted, potentially have too much access to a child's data, in possible violation of section 17.4 of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and the related section 1.3 of the App Store terms. However, many of the sections of COPPA cited by Apple's rejections can be bypassed by parental consent, which presumably the parents would grant, if they're installing some form of monitoring application on an iPhone.

"We treat all apps the same, including those that compete with our own services," Apple said, in a statement to AppleInsider and other venues. "Our incentive is to have a vibrant app ecosystem that provides consumers access to as many quality apps as possible."

In social media, the app removal report is bringing up the long-time neologism "Sherlocked" for when Apple replaces a third-party application's functionality with something baked into the operating system. Over 15 years ago with the release of MacOS X 10.2, Sherlock 3 was a substantively similar Apple-generated clone of Karelia Software's Watson. Ultimately, Sherlock 3 effectively killed Watson, spawning the "Sherlocked" term.
elizabeth korkor
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 54
    In the same story in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/27/technology/apple-screen-time-trackers.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage) it is said that the European Union Regulators are looking into this. It also cites Senator Warren who proposed to separate the Appstore from Apple. Has Apple overplayed their hand?
    edited April 27 elijahgElCapitan
  • Reply 2 of 54
    larryjwlarryjw Posts: 394member
    Seems Apple has a death-wish. 
    elijahganantksundaramElCapitanurahara
  • Reply 3 of 54
    If I was starting out as a new app developer, I think I would look to another platform than iOS today. This pains me to say since I have had several successful iOS apps including one of the original iPad launch apps. You just can't trust iOS as a platform because Apple can and will arbitrarily tell you that an important feature of your apps must be removed. They don't even follow their own guidelines. Has Google ever removed an app from the Google store because it is similar to one of their own apps or features? I can't think of a case (none have appeared in the news).
    elijahganantksundaramLatko
  • Reply 4 of 54
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 987member
    This reeks of anticompetitive behaviour. Apple is already walking a fine line with the App Store and with Steam Link. The app store being the only choice isn't necessarily as anticompetitive IMO, as you can sideload apps, in theory, or switch to Android. The App Store is monopolistic on iOS, but not in the marketplace as a whole. But both Apple's refusal to allow Steam Link as someone might buy something through it bypassing Apple's 30% cut is definitely anticompetitive, as is this; literally removing apps that compete with Apple's own features. What'll be next, Messenger, Viber, Signal, Telegram as they compete with iMessage? What makes it even more ridiculous is Apple's not missing out on anything by removing these screen time apps, just making their customers suffer and regulators come knocking.

    Pointing to Apple's guidelines that state that developers may not have apps with similar features to those in iOS is of little consequence from an anticompetitive point of view. If the guidelines result in anticompetitive behaviour from Apple, a regulator will force Apple to change them.  I hate to say it but I think the regulators to need to have words with Apple to put them back in their place a bit.
    edited April 27 Latko
  • Reply 5 of 54
    Johan42Johan42 Posts: 163member
    Apple not allowing anything on iPhones that doesn’t make them money. Who would have thought.
  • Reply 6 of 54
    georgie01georgie01 Posts: 254member
    Once again people seem completely ignorant of one of Apple’s most important reasons for success. Apple wants to control the user experience because they feel they know best. This has served them extremely well.

    It’s unlikely that Apple cares very much that apps compete with their own. What they do care about is how those apps affect the user experience of their product. If there are apps which appear to confuse the built-in function then of course they’re not going to be happy with it.

    Sometimes this approach hurts other developers, but it’s not a desire to dominate anything but the user experience.

    Apple’s user experience, while not perfect, is better than others. And if 3rd party developers could do whatever they wanted the user experience would overall be worsened.
    edited April 27 cornchipmagman1979uraharawatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 54
    kruegdudekruegdude Posts: 340member
    If I was starting out as a new app developer, I think I would look to another platform than iOS today. This pains me to say since I have had several successful iOS apps including one of the original iPad launch apps. You just can't trust iOS as a platform because Apple can and will arbitrarily tell you that an important feature of your apps must be removed. They don't even follow their own guidelines. Has Google ever removed an app from the Google store because it is similar to one of their own apps or features? I can't think of a case (none have appeared in the news).
    That doesn’t makes sense. The iOS app ecosystem is a potential gold mine. If you want to make it as an independent app developer your efforts will be much harder to gain the penetration into a customer base that the iOS App Store provides. You have rules to follow and occasionally there’ll be conflicts with the infrastructure provider but in the long run and in comparison to any other path you have it easy.

    you could, of course, try open sourcing your code. I hear that’s a way to provide code without any rules...oh wait, the GPL...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 54
    kruegdudekruegdude Posts: 340member
    killing the industry” that’s rich. Follow the rules and make a better app. 
    cornchipmagman1979watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 54
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 987member
    kruegdude said:
    “killing the industry” that’s rich. Follow the rules and make a better app. 
    What’s to say the ones removed aren’t better than Apple’s screen time? 
    hammeroftruthanantksundaramElCapitanmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 10 of 54
    This behavior has been going on for some time. It’s not a good time for Apple to remove apps that function a lot like their own, especially when they are under investigation in many countries for abuse.

    I wonder why you can get 3rd party calendars, browsers and email programs, but not system utilities?
  • Reply 11 of 54
    kruegdude said:
    “killing the industry” that’s rich. Follow the rules and make a better app. 
    Doesn’t mean Apple WON’T take it down. 
  • Reply 12 of 54
    kruegdudekruegdude Posts: 340member
    elijahg said:
    kruegdude said:
    “killing the industry” that’s rich. Follow the rules and make a better app. 
    What’s to say the ones removed aren’t better than Apple’s screen time? 
    Obviously they weren’t. Apple screen time is an integrated service. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 54
    kruegdudekruegdude Posts: 340member
    This behavior has been going on for some time. It’s not a good time for Apple to remove apps that function a lot like their own, especially when they are under investigation in many countries for abuse.

    I wonder why you can get 3rd party calendars, browsers and email programs, but not system utilities?
    Because system level utilities would be a vector for malicious code. 
    cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 54
    shevshev Posts: 81member
    dick move. stuff like this is why people hate apple.
    edited April 27
  • Reply 15 of 54
    kruegdude said:
    This behavior has been going on for some time. It’s not a good time for Apple to remove apps that function a lot like their own, especially when they are under investigation in many countries for abuse.

    I wonder why you can get 3rd party calendars, browsers and email programs, but not system utilities?
    Because system level utilities would be a vector for malicious code. 
    Not more risky than an App. Just look what kind of trust damage Google did to Apple by harvesting user data when using Google in Safari.
    They violated Apple’s terms and they didn’t even get a slap on the wrist. 

    https://www.wired.com/2012/02/google-safari-browser-cookie/

    So it’s not a viable excuse. It’s not a question of security, it is an example of abuse by Apple dating back to Sherlock on the Mac. That was almost an identical copy to Watson. 

    Now that Apple is the size it is and isn’t a niche player, it won’t be able to get away with this behavior for much longer. 

    Better to leave the other Apps alone, it will end up costing Apple less in the long run.

    elijahg
  • Reply 16 of 54
    bulk001bulk001 Posts: 480member
    Can any developed out there explain how the rejection process works? Is every app manually checked or could some algo change cause the system to automatically reject an app and generate a rejection letter, Or could an overzealous employee be responsible? It seems strange that it is happening to some but not all of the apps. If Apple is doing this intentionally then it is not that much different to Amazon creating competing products to best selling items and burying the competition in the search results (something they seem to be moving away from). I think that on this issue Warren is right to propose legislation. 
  • Reply 18 of 54
    larryjw said:
    Seems Apple has a death-wish. 
    Although “death-wish” is an exaggeration, I agree with your sentiment. Apple will have to backtrack on this, or else will invite terribly negative media attention. 
    edited April 27 muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 19 of 54
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,145member
    It sounds like these aren’t new apps and Apple started cracking down on them after Screen Time was introduced? If they were violating App Store rules why did it take Apple so long to crack down?
    anantksundaramelijahgmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 20 of 54
    wonkothesanewonkothesane Posts: 1,378member
    According to their logic, they should kill also any calendar apps, note apps, maps apps, etc. 
    something doesn’t make sense here. 
    elijahgurahara
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