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Apple removes rival parental control apps, prompting accusations of anticompetitive practices

The tech giant says the apps were pulled because they pose privacy and security risks

Photo (c) Dkart - Getty Images
Apple over the weekend pulled 11 out of 17 of the most-downloaded screen time and parental control apps from its App Store because they put user privacy and security at risk, according to a New York Times report.

The report suggested that the tech giant engaged in anti-competitive behaviors by removing the apps because, in doing so, Apple snuffed out rivals to its own Screen Time software.

In an effort to shed light on why the apps were removed, Apple published a statement on its website explaining that the apps were abusing a kind of technology called Mobile Device Management (MDM). The tech giant stressed that use of the technology, which can give an app developer access to a range of sensitive user information, “is incredibly risky—and a clear violation of App Store policies—for a private, consumer-focused app business to install MDM control over a customer’s device.”

“Contrary to what The New York Times reported over the weekend, this isn’t a matter of competition. It’s a matter of security,” Apple said.

The company noted that one of its App Store guidelines states that apps “should use APIs and frameworks for their intended purposes and indicate that integration in their app description.” MDM aren’t intended to be used to track and limit phone use, Apple said.

Accusations of anti-competitive practices

In response to Apple’s move, two developers (Qustodio and Kidslox) filed complaints with the European Union’s competition office, arguing that Apple forced them to modify their apps in a way that would make them less useful in comparison to Apple’s parental controls, according to the Times.

Spotify has also recently accused Apple of engaging in anticompetitive practices and limiting consumer choice on its Apple Music platform. In March, CEO Daniel Ek argued in an antitrust complaint that Apple forces rival streaming services to compete with Apple Music by charging a 30 percent tax on in-app purchases.

Earlier this year, Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren outlined a plan to prevent large tech companies like Apple from engaging in anti-competitive practices. To keep tech giants from stifling competition, she proposed designating large tech platforms as “platform utilities” and appointing regulators committed to reversing illegal and anticompetitive tech mergers.

“Tech entrepreneurs would have a fighting chance to compete against the tech giants,” Warren said.

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