Developers demand Apple API solution for parental control apps

Apple’s widespread blocking of these applications is at the heart of the chaos.

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Developers have banded together to demand that Apple develop an API which will allow the parental control app market to continue in the iOS ecosystem.

The trouble began in April when a report appeared that the iPad and iPhone maker was deliberately removing parental control applications from the App Store to squash competition in favor of its own services.

The New York Times said that Apple had either removed or restricted 11 out of the 17 most popular parental control apps at the time, forcing some developers to close down their software altogether.

Parental control apps are used to monitor child devices, keep an eye on -- and restrict, if necessary -- their screen time, as well as check what content a child is accessing and who they are in contact with.

Apple offers Screen Time and usage limit tools, introduced in iOS 12. However, the company has refuted the allegation that removing the apps were intended to stifle competition; instead, the tech giant pointed at the widespread use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) software in the removed or restricted apps.

MDM is a remote access tool for providing external control over a device which has an MDM-supporting app installed. MDM not only gives third-parties the avenue to tamper with a device but also access a wide range of user information.

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When it comes to child monitoring, you can understand why MDM was used. However, remote access and MDM also comes very close to the functions of spyware, and so usage can "put users' privacy and security at risk," Apple said.

Now unable to use MDM if they wish to host their software in the App Store, parental control app developers have asked for a technical solution. As reported by The Verge, a group of developers have set up a website and have also released technical API specifications in the hopes that a suitable alternative will be found.

"There's an obvious solution and it's one that developers have been calling for from the start," the developers say. "Apple should release a public API granting developers access to the same functionalities that Apple's native "Screen Time" uses."

The technical specifications for the API make use of Screen Time, but the developers say the API will also allow apps to be created which "go beyond iOS Screen Time functionality, to address parental concerns about social media use, child privacy, effective content filtering across all browsers and apps and more."

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The proposed API is a cross-platform effort which could potentially be used for iOS, MacOS, and tvOS applications. In a limited form, the API could be used to generate usage events, without revealing "more information than is necessary," and it has also been proposed that the API could integrate with existing APIs for monitoring network activity.

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While Apple may not agree to release an API too similar to its homebrew service, the company, ahead of WWDC, has a task ahead of it to satisfy developers.

It was only this week that the tech giant launched a PR campaign designed to quell criticism of the App Store and the idea that Apple deliberately stamps out the competition.

ZDNet has reached out to Apple and will update if we hear back. 

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