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Apple Systematically Removing And Restricting Third-Party Screen Time Apps, Developers Claim

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Apple has removed a handful of third-party screen management tools from the App Store after debuting its own Screen Time feature. Companies are pushing back with antitrust complaints.   ( William Hook | Unsplash )

Apple has been asking screen-tracking and parental control apps to change their products ever since introducing the Screen Time feature to iOS. It's even removed some from the App Store entirely, as The New York Times reports.

Apple has pulled or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-tracking and parental control apps, plus a number of other similar software.

Apple Is Forcing Screen Time Management Developers To Remove Their Apps

The report notes that Apple's own Screen Time app has some drawbacks compared to some of the alternatives from third parties. For one, it has fewer ways to block kids from accessing unwanted apps, less granular scheduling, and web-filtering tools that children can easily bypass or find work around.

The New York Times interviewed developers who found their apps pulled suddenly from the App Store and who claimed they faced unclear and vague instructions for changing their apps or unresponsive support from Apple.

In response, Apple says that the apps violated its rules — third-party apps could collect too much data from users. Thus, it maintains that the apps were removed not because Apple launched its proprietary screen-monitoring tool.

Apple's Screen Time Management Tool

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently stated the company has "never been" about maximizing phone usage. But unlike apps such as the aforementioned OurPact, Apple's Screen Time tools don't allow parents to schedule different times throughout a day when an app is blocked. Apple's tool blocks adult content, but only on Safari and some apps, not on other browsers or many other popular apps such as Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

"Their incentives aren't really aligned for helping people solve their problem," said Fred Stutzman, CEO of screen-time app developer Freedom. "Can you really trust that Apple wants people to spend less time on their phones?"

A handful of the affected developers note that being removed from the store can be devastating to their companies. As the App Store is the only official way to obtain iOS apps, gutting an app entirely could be the death of a company. Some of the apps had been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. OurPact and Mobicip are the two most popular choices with over 3 million and 2.5 million downloads, respectively.

Many developers have expressed concern over Apple's tight control of the App Store and whether it's using that power at the expense of competitors. Spotify, perhaps the biggest company to complain about Apple's practices, is even suing the company on antitrust grounds for taking a 30 percent "tax" on subscriptions made from within the app.

Most recently, developers Kidslox and Qustodio filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in the European Union, while cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs filed a similar complaint last month after its own screen-tracking tool was removed from the App Store.

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