30.04.2019

Why are Apple removing Parental Control Apps from App Store and is Apple Screen Time up to the job – our thoughts…

With the recent coverage in the press about Apple removing 11 of the top 17 parental control apps from the App Store (more on that later) you may be wondering if the controls that Apple have in place are enough to keep your child safe online and block inappropriate content. At the time of writing this article iNet Guardian has not been removed from the Apple App store.

Well let’s take a look at what you can do on the iPhone (I use iPhone to represent the iPad as well) and see how it stacks up.

 

Restrict access to adult web content –

Under Screen Time you can go to Content & Privacy Restrictions>Content Restrictions>Web Content and choose to “Limit Adult Websites” to restrict access to certain adult websites. What it doesn’t do is give you a list of categories of websites that you can manage, such as the granular level of access that we allow. With iNet Guardian you can set the app to monitor, allow or block websites (as per the screen capture below from the iNet Guardian add new user wizard). We offer substantially more granularity when it comes to being able to protect your children from inappropriate content.

 

Restrict access to Apps – 

If you go to Screen Time and Content & Privacy Restrictions>Content Restrictions>Apps and set the Apps to an age limit, say for example 4+. I can still search the App Store for Apps that are older that 4+ but I cannot install them. What Apple should do is not show any apps that are outside of the age range that you set. What they do is to display them but just allow them to not be installed. Its like showing a child a sweet jar and then saying they cannot have anything from it…why show them it in the first place ?

Limit amount of time an App can be used – 

With Screen Time you can also limit the amount of time that an app can be used. What you cannot do is stop the app from being downloaded. This is a key feature of a lot of the parental control apps and one that a lot of parents ask for, but Apple haven’t provided this feature. As of the time of writing this article we are developing our App Management service to be released soon.

Screen time offers far less granular scheduling for time limits or web access, so I can set a limit on the amount of time that an app can be used (say for 30 mins) but I cannot set what time of day that limit applies and I cannot set the times of day that a device can and cannot access the Internet.            

I imagine that Apple tested the Screen Time feature as it is was designed to be used. What they don’t seem to do is test it as its not supposed to be used i.e. as a child would use it or try to work around it. Why do we think this, well within days of iOS 12s release, children had already found ways around it https://www.idownloadblog.com/2018/09/26/bypass-screen-time/

So, while Screen Time does offer some level of protecting it does not have the flexibility or the features that the parental control apps such as iNet Guardian and therefore does not offer parents nearly as much protection or flexibility as parental control apps.

Why have Apple removed Parental Control Apps from Apple App Store –

So the question is why have Apple removed 11 of the 17 parental control apps from the App Store, https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/27/18519888/apple-screen-time-app-tracking-parental-controls-report.

Apple claim that by using a certain feature the parental control apps are comprising the privacy and security of users. The feature in contention is MDM which stands for Mobile Device Management server which can allow access to quite powerful features of the iPhone, such as the ability to wipe the phone. Interestingly the companies who have had their apps removed have been using MDM in their apps and these apps have been available in the App Store since 2013 and 2014 without any complaints from Apple. Bearing in mind that Apple do some minimal testing of the apps that get submitted to the App Store, they would have seen the use of MDM if they had just taken 2 minutes to look for it.  

Is it a coincidence that Apple released Screen Time in iOS 12 in the autumn of 2018 and has taken steps to remove Parental Control software that uses MDM from summer 2018…you decide.

I would imagine that they will improve on the features of Screen Time and potentially add it into a package similar to “Family Sharing” and then possibly put it into a subscription model of some kind, hence the need to squeeze the current market but that’s just my personal opinion.

Apple have released a public statement (https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2019/04/the-facts-about-parental-control-apps/) which states –

“Over the last year, we became aware that several of these parental control apps were using a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management, or 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. 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.”

“Beyond the control that the app itself can exert over the user’s device, research has shown that MDM profiles could be used by hackers to gain access for malicious purposes.” to which Apple have provided no evidence or reference in the statement that MDM has been used by hackers on personal iPhones (i.e. those not deployed by an organisation) for malicious purposes.

Apple go on to state “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.”

While we agree with Apple that parents shouldn’t have to trade their fears of their childrens device usage for risks to privacy and security, a lot of parents want the option to allow certain features to protect their children online. I believe that these features are more important than whether MDM is used on the iPhone or not. I would imagine the risk of hackers being able to access the iPhone via MDM is fairly minimal and insignificant in comparison to the risk that some of the apps present to children in terms exposure to inappropriate content and a gateway to online grooming.

 MDM allows developers amongst other things to –

·       Have the ability to block or remove apps on the iPhone.

·       Have the ability to list all the apps on the iPhone and provide parents with a list of the “risky” apps on the phone and reasons why they are risky.

·       Have the ability to block or allow camera access to the iPhone.

·       Have the ability to lock the device.

 

During the install of iNet Guardian we display a screen that tells the user what giving admin access to the app can do.

 

While the ability to erase all the data and settings on the iPhone is provided with admin level MDM access, for our service there is no code that gives the user, parent or us as a company the ability to do that and its not something that we would provide. I imagine most other parental control apps would not allow you to do this either.

Apple Screen Time does not give the flexibility that a parent requires as opposed to parental control apps which offer far more features and flexibility.

Two app developers have lodged a complaint with the European Union’s antitrust authority, alleging that Apple deliberately used its control over the App Store to try and give itself an advantage over apps that competed with the firm’s Screen Time feature – https://www.wired.co.uk/article/apple-eu-vestager-screen-time-antitrust-competition-app-store

Using iNet Guardian can help keep your family safe. In using iNet Guardian you can help your family stay safer online by ensuring they only visit age appropriate websites, set times that the device can access the Internet and also how much time (within a 24 hour window) can be spent online. The service also blocks phishing sites, which are sites which purport to be sites that they are not i.e. fraudulent financial sites with the view to gaining access to your financial information.

Visit www.inetguardian.co.uk for more information and to sign up for a free 30 day trial.