Apple has reversed course on its ban of parental control app OurPact, allowing the ousted software to return to the App Store in its original form and without any limitations or restrictions. The move marks an end to a months-long dispute between Apple and a variety of parental control companies affected by Apple’s restrictions.
The fact that Apple removed or prevented updates to many of these apps (including OurPact) raised eyebrows because it allegedly stemmed from a sudden change in policy that reclassified the apps as unsafe, due to the technology they relied on for managing kids’ devices. The issue was that these apps were using a suite of tools called MDM, or multi-device management, designed for management of hardware in IT and school environments. It was still allowed on the App Store in a variety of enterprise-level apps after Apple’s rule change, despite using the exact same technology and seemingly putting their users at the same purported risk.
Things came to a head right before Apple’s annual WWDC developer gathering, following a story in The New York Times that put a spotlight on the affected parental control app developers. The report noted how Apple’s bans seemed to coincide with its own rollout of the built-in Screen Time parental control tool in iOS 12, suggesting Apple’s motives involved self-interest.
In response, Apple took the unusual step of publishing a letter from Phil Schiller, its longtime worldwide marketing chief, explaining that the apps “put users’ privacy and security at risk,” and therefore had to be removed. A group of parental control app developers (including OurPact) then banded together to demand an API from Apple for their apps to function within iOS’s new limits, if they were to be permanently prevented from using the existing MDM tools.
Yet in another twist, Apple updated its App Store Review Guidelines during WWDC to allow for parental control apps using MDM (and VPN tools), seemingly in response to the controversy. And now, with OurPact — the most publicly affected app — officially back in the store, it seems that the whole affair is finally over with.
Still, even with this controversy finally wrapped up, it’s a good reminder of the near-total power Apple wields over the App Store and what apps are allowed or not allowed in. Even if this particular incident seemingly resolved, given the nature of Apple’s tight-fisted control, odds are this won’t be the last time this kind of controversy crops up.