Apple's App Crackdown

Photo by    Justin Main    on    Unsplash

Photo by Justin Main on Unsplash

There is a little bit of a curfuffle going on right now because of a New York Times piece titled, "Apple Cracks Down on Apps That Fight iPhone Addiction".  In it, the Times argues that Apple has starting killing off apps that compete with a product they released last year called "Screen Time".  The app makers say their apps are better than Screen Time and Apple doesn't like the competition.  Screen Time, by the way, actually isn't very good so at least they got that part right.

Yes, Apple created a competing app, but to say that they are removing these apps from the App Store purely based on competition is disingenuous.  If Apple wanted to conspiratorially kill off apps that compete with their own how does one explain the fourteen apps that compete with the "Apple Podcasts" app? (Which is, by the way, also a terrible product.) Or the vast assortment of apps that compete with Maps, Weather, Stocks, Calculator, Calendar, Clock, Safari, Health, Music, Books, Camera, Messages, FaceTime, Notes, etc...

One reason they took such a hard line here is, in part, that Apple has taken a firm stance on the side of privacy.  They have stated that they will do everything they can to protect the privacy of their users.  They go to great and expensive lengths to do so.  For example, there is a chip on all iPhones with a fingerprint reader whose sole purpose is to encrypt a mathematical representation of your fingerprint.  Not a picture of your fingerprint, only a number that represents it. That means that nothing about your fingerprint is ever 
stored outside of your device. This, by the way, is why you're required to enter your PIN after restarting your phone - that's the only way to decrypt the mathematical representation.

So in light of their commitment to user privacy, it makes sense that they're removing some of these apps.  How do we know these app makers take our privacy, and the privacy of our children, as seriously as Apple does?  As seriously as we, the parents should and do?  How do we know they're not watching everything our kids do on their devices and selling that information to the highest bidder? (Which, let's face it, is Facebook.)

In fact, the way these apps worked was to use technology that was intended for companies to control the iPhones and iPads they distributed to their employees. That technology gives the app maker access to an alarming amount of data, such as all device settings and all internet traffic.  This technology was never intended for consumer use.  So what Apple really did is shut these apps down for abusing a technology that Apple has always stated was never to be used in consumer apps.  Every app developer knows about and agrees to this when they sign up to be an iOS developer.

And lest we think this is giant Apple picking on the little guys: they recently did the same thing to Facebook for exactly the same reason.

As a parent, I would like apps that help me teach my kids to use their devices responsibly.  But this is a nuanced and delicate issue that can't simply be dismissed with the wave of a hand and an accusation of 
"they don't like that our apps are better than theirs".  If I'm going to use an app to protect my children, I want to make sure it's actually doing what it says it does and not collecting data for future sale to advertisers.  But, if I'm being completely honest, using such an app plays second fiddle to simply talking to my kids about how much screen time is too much and then paying careful attention to how much time they do spend on their devices.  You know; parenting.

Response to the New York Times article provided by Darrell Brogdon, CIO of Raika Technologies.