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Apple Claims Parental Control Apps Removed Due to Use of MDM

Apple claims its recent decision to remove several parental control applications from the official App Store is related to these apps using what the company has described as “highly invasive” mobile device management (MDM) technology.

The New York Times last week ran a story about how several iOS applications designed to limit the time users and their children spend on a device had been removed from Apple’s App Store after the tech giant released its own application. The newspaper said Apple had removed or restricted 11 of the 17 most downloaded applications of this kind.

The New York Times reported that the developers of two popular apps, Kidslox and Qustodio, had filed a complaint with the European Union’s competition office over the controversial policy.

This comes weeks after several others made similar complaints, including cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, which filed an antitrust complaint against Apple with the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service over its new App Store policy.

In response to the New York Times article, Apple said it had removed several parental control apps as it believed they put user security and privacy at risk due to the use of 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,” Apple stated. “We started exploring this use of MDM by non-enterprise developers back in early 2017 and updated our guidelines based on that work in mid-2017.”

Apple said MDM is used by enterprises to keep track and control of their mobile devices and the data stored on them. However, the company says the use of MDM for consumer apps is “incredibly risky” and it violates its App Store policies.

“When we found out about these guideline violations, we communicated these violations to the app developers, giving them 30 days to submit an updated app to avoid availability interruption in the App Store. Several developers released updates to bring their apps in line with these policies. Those that didn’t were removed from the App Store,” Apple said.

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

Following Apple’s statement, Kaspersky said its Safe Kids app for iOS, which is at the center of its quarrel with Apple, never used MDM. The cybersecurity firm said Apple had a problem with its app due to the use of configuration profiles, which Kaspersky uses to allow parents to specify which apps cannot be run based on App Store age restrictions, and hide all the browsers installed on a device so that kids can only access the Internet using the secure browser built into Safe Kids.

In response to the complaints filed by Kidslox and Qustodio, Kaspersky stated, “We are glad that not one but two of our competitors decided to step forward. We see this filing as evidence that the current situation is recognized as inappropriate by many market participants.”

Apple’s own screen-time control application is Screen Time, which the company introduced in iOS 12. It allows users to monitor the time spent on certain apps and websites, and set time restrictions, which can serve as parental control features.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.