Simple motives: Guessing why Apple does things

When Apple bans apps from the store, maybe there’s a reason.


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Have you taken Apple Uproar 101? Well, if not, here’s the notes from the syllabus: When someone complains about Apple, type it up.

That’s pretty much it. It’s a short course. Usually a J-term class.

Writing for The New York Times, Jack Nicas claims “Apple Cracks Down on Apps That Fight iPhone Addiction.”

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.

Why would Apple do that? Well, surely because it wants your kids to use their iPhones more, that’s why! When you don’t look into it and take the word of the companies that make these apps at face value, there’s literally no other way to see it.

Executives at the app makers believe they are being targeted because their apps could hurt Apple’s business.

Well, that must be it. It couldn’t be because they might be violating the terms of use of Apple’s iOS enterprise management tools, could it?

Wait, what?

Unlike on Android, iOS apps can only affect other apps to very limited degrees. So, the only way to provide system-wide restrictions on the level necessary for such parental controls apps is to use mobile device management tools intended for organizations like schools and companies to manage the devices they give to students or employees. Apple has already said that these tools are only intended for use in those situations and, in January of this year, banned a Facebook app that was abusing their purpose in order to collect more user information.

Surely it will come as a shock to you that Facebook was trying to collect more user information, presuming you are a doe-eyed anime character that lives in a magical realm of candy rainbows and gumdrop trees. Anyone else, not so much.

So, why is signing your kid’s device up for one of these services a bad thing? Because this level of management—which involved enrolling the device in a program and accepting the installation of a device management profile, provides whoever issues the profile almost complete control over the device and deep visibility into the use of it, including all the internet traffic. The Verge wrote a piece about this type of misuse back in February.

“Their incentives aren’t really aligned for helping people solve their problem,” said Fred Stutzman, chief executive of Freedom, a screen-time app with more than 770,000 downloads before Apple removed it in August.

Unlike how the incentives of companies that take complete control over and insight into the use of a device are perfectly suited to the interests of children.

Apple’s real incentive here, according to these companies, is to get your kids addicted to their iPhones so they can rack up more app purchases. Surely these companies aren’t trying to sell anything.

Nicas doesn’t delve into any of the technical details of this, choosing instead to let these app makers have all the say except for one paragraph of response from Apple. The Macalope was initially inclined to believe that that was all of Apple’s reply. The company is not exactly chatty. According to Phil Schiller, however, The Times “did not share our complete statement, nor explain the risks to children had Apple not acted on their behalf.”

Now, you might wonder why Apple didn’t act on the behalf of children for all the years it allowed these companies to sell their wares. The reason is most likely because it’s own Parental Controls just weren’t good enough. Apple knew it was a bad situation, but wasn’t yet in a place to do anything about it. Screen Time isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough the company felt it could now cut off these apps.

The Macalope is somewhat sympathetic to the companies’ complaints about the meagre feedback they got as part of the app review process. This is a well-documented problem. Still, the horny one suspects the companies knew exactly why they were getting banned, they just assumed they’d be able to get away with it forever.

It is a little rich to read a piece that so glibly takes the word of people trying to retain access to the internet traffic of children coming from the very same publication that just earlier this month was demanding that Apple fix the privacy violations of Facebook and Google. Like, dipping a donut in Cool Whip and kicking it back with a nice tall glass of melted butter kind of rich.

There are many legitimate complaints to be made about Screen Time, the rules of the App Store and how Apple picks and chooses which rules it enforces and when and its poor communication with developers. The way to make them, however, is not to take the word of one side at face value. Particularly when it’s the side that likes having access to your kids’ browsing history.

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