Persistent Kids Finding Loopholes in Apple’s Screen Time Limits

Apple is currently engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with persistent kids looking to circumvent Screen Time restrictions, but the company has been receiving some criticism for not moving quickly enough to lock down some of the loopholes, reports The Washington Post.


A few of the loopholes and ways for parents to shut them down are documented on the site Protect Young Eyes, while these and others are frequently shared by kids through various social channels.
“These are not rocket science, backdoor, dark web sort of hacks,” says Chris McKenna, founder of the Internet safety group Protect Young Eyes. “It blows me away that Apple hasn’t thought through the fact that a persistent middle school boy or girl can bang around and find them.”
Although Apple has been making tweaks and improvements to Screen Time since its launch, some of the loopholes kids have been using to work around Screen Time limits have gone unpatched. And while Apple declined to address specific issues related to Screen Time, the company noted that it's committed to improving the feature.
Apple spokeswoman Michele Wyman, in an emailed statement, said the company is “committed to providing our users with powerful tools to manage their iOS devices and are always working to make them even better.” Wyman did not comment on specific bugs and workarounds in Screen Time or the speed with which Apple addresses them.
Apple rolled out Screen Time last year as part of iOS 12, and brought it to the Mac just last week with the release of macOS Catalina.


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Apple Reverses Course and Allows Parental Control Apps to Use MDM Technology With Stricter Privacy Requirements

As one of many updates to its App Store Review Guidelines this week, Apple has indicated that parental control app developers are again permitted to use Mobile Device Management (MDM) technology in their apps, so long as they do not sell, use, or disclose any data to third parties for any purpose.


An excerpt from the newly added Guideline 5.5:
You must make a clear declaration of what user data will be collected and how it will be used on an app screen prior to any user action to purchase or otherwise use the service. MDM apps must not violate local laws. Apps offering MDM services may not sell, use, or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose, and must commit to this in their privacy policy. Apps that do not comply with this guideline will be removed from the App Store and you may be removed from the Apple Developer Program.
This comes a little over a month after The New York Times reported that Apple had removed or restricted many of the most popular screen time and parental control apps on the App Store since launching its own Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last year, raising concerns over potentially anticompetitive behavior.

In response to the report, Apple said it had discovered that some parental control apps were using MDM, putting the privacy and security of children at risk.

"These apps were using an enterprise technology that provided them access to kids' highly sensitive personal data," an Apple spokesperson said in a statement issued to The New York Times on Monday. "We do not think it is O.K. for any apps to help data companies track or optimize advertising of kids."

MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to manage their company-owned devices, and Apple said the use of MDM by consumer-focused apps carried privacy and security concerns that resulted in the company addressing the situation in its App Store Review Guidelines in 2017.

Backlash quickly mounted from parental control app developers, who eventually joined together to petition Apple to "put kids first" by releasing a public API for its Screen Time for use by developers. That never happened, with Apple going down this route instead and allowing MDM usage with stricter privacy requirements.

Apple's updated guidelines also indicate that parental control apps from "approved providers" may use one of its Personal VPN APIs.

Apple has faced increasing scrutiny over its App Store and potentially anticompetitive business practices, ranging from Spotify's complaint to multiple class action lawsuits. In response, Apple said it "welcomes competition" on the App Store, which only serves to make it a "better" platform.


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Parental Control App Developers Urge Apple to ‘Put Kids First’ by Releasing Screen Time API

Over a dozen parental control app developers have come together with a shared message for Apple: it's "time to put kids first."


Together, they have launched a new website called Screen Time API that urges Apple to release a public API granting developers access to the same functionalities that iOS 12's Screen Time feature uses. The developers have even proposed their own API, complete with samples of code and a diagram of how it would work.

"Protecting children online and teaching them good technology use habits are some of the biggest challenges facing modern parents," the developers plea. "That's why developers need a cross platform, open screen time API."

The website, shared by The New York Times and The Verge, is a joint effort by OurPact, Kidslox, Qustodio, Screen Time Labs, Safe Lagoon, MMGuardian, Boomerang, Family Orbit, Netsanity, unGlue, Mobicip, Activate Fitness, Parents Dans Les Parages, Lilu, FamilyTime, Bosco, and Tittle.

The developers were encouraged to act by Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive known as the "Father of the iPod." Fadell backed the developers in a series of tweets, and according to The New York Times, he also said he would help "push" their message "out to the world," adding "just make sure it's done BEFORE WWDC."

The campaign comes a month after The New York Times reported that Apple had removed or restricted many of the most popular screen time and parental control apps on the App Store since launching its own Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last year, raising concerns over potentially anticompetitive behavior.


Apple was quick to respond, stating that it became aware over the last year that some parental control apps were using a technology called Mobile Device Management or "MDM" that puts users' privacy and security at risk.

"Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn't a matter of competition," wrote Apple. "It's a matter of security."

MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to manage their company-owned devices, and Apple says the use of MDM by consumer-focused apps carries privacy and security concerns that resulted in Apple addressing the situation in its App Store review guidelines in mid-2017.

Apple added that when it found out about these App Store guideline violations, it communicated with the necessary developers, giving them 30 days to submit an updated app to avoid being removed from the App Store.

Many developers quickly refuted parts of Apple's press release, with OurPact claiming that its parental control app for children was removed from the App Store on October 6, 2018 without any prior communication from Apple, just three weeks after iOS 12 was publicly released with Screen Time.


Three other developers added that Apple was slow to respond and did not provide any resolution for the sudden guideline violations.

Apple has yet to indicate whether it will release a public API for Screen Time. While it is certainly possible that Apple could announce that it will offer such an API at its WWDC 2019 keynote next week, on short notice, no rumors have indicated that the API is coming in the initial release of iOS 13.


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Parental Control App Developers Urge Apple to Make Screen Time APIs Available for Third-Party Apps

Last weekend, The New York Times reported that Apple has removed or restricted many of the most popular screen time and parental control apps on the App Store since launching its own Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last year, raising concerns over potentially anticompetitive behavior.


Apple was quick to respond. In both an email to a concerned customer and a press release, Apple indicated that it became aware over the last year that some parental control apps were using a technology called Mobile Device Management or "MDM" that puts users' privacy and security at risk.

MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to manage their company-owned devices, and Apple says the use of MDM by consumer-focused apps carries privacy and security concerns that resulted in Apple addressing the situation in its App Store review guidelines in mid-2017.

"Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn't a matter of competition," wrote Apple. "It's a matter of security."

Apple added that when it found out about these App Store guideline violations, it communicated with the necessary developers, giving them 30 days to submit an updated app to avoid being removed from the App Store.

In the days since, a handful of developers behind parental control apps including Qustodio, Kidslox, OurPact, and Mobicip have responded to Apple's press release with open letters, calling for the company to make the APIs behind its Screen Time feature available to the public for use in third-party apps.

Eduardo Cru, co-founder of Qustodio:
If safety is such a great concern to Apple, why not share the APIs used in Apple's own Screen Time competitive service and instantly make the environment safer and open for everyone?
Viktor Yevpak, co-founder of Kidslox:
Ultimately, making the "Screen Time" API's public is the solution to this issue which would truly prove Apple's commitment to the safety and welfare of children. This would allow 3rd party developers like us to create effective products that give users genuine choices, while also complying with Apple's self-set standards.
OurPact:
If Apple truly believes that parents should have tools to manage their children's device usage, and are committed to providing a competitive, innovative app ecosystem, then they will also provide open API's for developers to utilize. Now, more than ever, the focus should be on building better and more diverse solutions for families to choose from.
Suren Ramasubbu, co-founder of Mobicip:
Knowing that parental controls apps using MDM have been around for years, wouldn't it have been a better option for Apple to support an officially supported API before pulling the plug?
Tony Fadell, a senior executive at Apple in the 2000s, agrees that Apple should create and provide developers with APIs for Screen Time.


The developers also refute parts of Apple's press release, with OurPact claiming that its parental control app for children was removed from the App Store on October 6, 2018 without any prior communication from Apple, just three weeks after iOS 12 was publicly released with Screen Time.

Three out of four of the developers add that Apple was slow to respond and did not provide any resolution for the sudden guideline violations.

While Apple is firm in stating that competition did not play a role in its crackdown on these apps, the timing is certainly curious. Many of the removals occurred shortly after Apple rolled out its Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last September, despite several of these apps having used MDM for a number of years.

At face value, public APIs for Screen Time does appear like a viable solution for both the privacy and security of users and ensuring a competitive landscape on the App Store. Whether that happens remains to be seen.


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Apple Shares More Details on Parental Control App Crackdown

Following an email from Phil Schiller to a MacRumors reader yesterday addressing a report from The New York Times on Apple's removal of a number of App Store apps focused on screen time monitoring and parental controls, Apple has issued a public statement sharing additional perspective on the situation.


The statement, entitled "The facts about parental control apps," is very similar in its details to the email from Schiller, highlighting how Apple "became aware" over the last year that these apps were using Mobile Device Management (MDM) technology to monitor all of the activity occurring on the user's device or devices used by their family members.

MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to manage their company-owned devices, and Apple says the use of MDM by consumer-focused apps carries privacy and security concerns that resulted in Apple addressing the situation in its App Store review guidelines in mid-2017.

Apple says that it notified developers of apps affected by its crackdown on this disallowed usage of MDM, giving them 30 days to modify their apps before pulling them from the App Store.
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. No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device.

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 also directly addressed observations in this weekend's report that the move gives the appearance of anticompetitive behavior:
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.
While Apple is firm in stating that competition did not play a role in its crackdown on these apps, the timing is certainly curious. Apple began the crackdown shortly after rolling out its Screen Time feature in iOS 12 last September, despite several of these apps having used MDM for a number of years.


Developers quoted in The New York Times and who have spoken to MacRumors have also expressed frustration with Apple's original communication on the issue. The developers detailed multiple attempts to obtain more information on exactly what changes needed to be made to their apps, but Apple's support staff reportedly either failed to respond or provided unhelpful and non-specific responses before pulling the affected apps.


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Phil Schiller Lays Out Apple’s Case for Cracking Down on Screen Time Monitoring Apps

Earlier today, a report from The New York Times highlighted Apple's removal of a number of App Store apps that had allowed users to monitor usage of their devices or those used by their children. The report suggests that Apple's move to pull the apps is related to having rolled out its own Screen Time feature in iOS 12 that competes in some ways with these apps, raising concerns over anticompetitive behavior.

Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps.

In some cases, Apple 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.
The report quotes several developers who had their apps removed, including one who says the removal came "out of the blue with no warning." Apple is facing several complaints related to the moves, with a pair of developers filing with the European Union's competition office and Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab filing an antitrust complaint in that country.

The New York Times shared a brief statement from an Apple spokeswoman saying that Apple treats "all apps the same," including ones that compete with Apple's own features like Screen Time. The spokeswoman stated that the affected apps "could gain too much information from users' devices."

After reading the article, MacRumors reader Zachary Robinson emailed Tim Cook to express concern over the situation, and earlier today he received a thorough response from Phil Schiller outlining that Apple's removal of these apps is due to their use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) technology to monitor everything that happens on the user's phone.

Schiller notes that MDM technology is intended for enterprise users to install on company-owned devices, giving them easy access to and control over those devices for management purposes. The alternative usage of MDM technology by third-party developers for screen time monitoring or parental controls raises significant privacy and security concerns, however, and Apple has moved to address those issues.

The full email from Schiller, which appears to be authentic based on our examination of the included headers:
Thank you for being a fan of Apple and for your email.

I would like to assure you that the App Store team has acted extremely responsibly in this matter, helping to protect our children from technologies that could be used to violate their privacy and security. After you learn of some of the facts I hope that you agree.

Unfortunately the New York Times article you reference did not share our complete statement, nor explain the risks to children had Apple not acted on their behalf. Apple has long supported providing apps on the App Store, that work like our ScreenTime feature, to help parents manage their children’s access to technology and we will continue to encourage development of these apps. There are many great apps for parents on the App Store, like “Moment - Balance Screen Time” by Moment Health and “Verizon Smart Family” by Verizon Wireless.

However, over the last year we became aware that some parental management apps were using a technology called Mobile Device Management or “MDM” and installing an MDM Profile as a method to limit and control use of these devices. MDM is a technology that gives one party access to and control over many devices, it was meant to be used by a company on it’s own mobile devices as a management tool, where that company has a right to all of the data and use of the devices. The MDM technology is not intended to enable a developer to have access to and control over consumers’ data and devices, but the apps we removed from the store did just that. No one, except you, should have unrestricted access to manage your child’s device, know their location, track their app use, control their mail accounts, web surfing, camera use, network access, and even remotely erase their devices. Further, security research has shown that there is risk that MDM profiles could be used as a technology for hacker attacks by assisting them in installing apps for malicious purposes on users’ devices.

When the App Store team investigated the use of MDM technology by some developers of apps for managing kids devices and learned the risk they create to user privacy and security, we asked these developers to stop using MDM technology in their apps. Protecting user privacy and security is paramount in the Apple ecosystem and we have important App Store guidelines to not allow apps that could pose a threat to consumers privacy and security. We will continue to provide features, like ScreenTime, designed to help parents manage their children’s access to technology and we will work with developers to offer many great apps on the App Store for these uses, using technologies that are safe and private for us and our children.

Thank you,

Phil
Apple's dedication to privacy and security is well-known, so it's unsurprising the company took steps to address concerns related to how these apps were monitoring device usage. But for some users who had come to prefer the capabilities of these apps such as cross-platform compatibility with Android devices in their households and more robust app controls, Apple's Screen Time feature feels like a step backward.


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