Parental Control App Makers Tell Apple to 'Put Kids First' with Screen Time API

After a sudden cull of parental control apps from the Apple App Store earlier this year, the apps’ developers have united to try and make Apple work with them.

If their software isn’t safe to use, the group argues, then Apple should provide them with the components to make secure alternatives.

Credit: Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you’ve forgotten what happened or didn’t follow the original story, here’s a brief summary: Beginning in the fall of 2018, Apple blocked several parental control apps because they used a piece of software that Apple said compromised user security and data privacy, when in the hands of app developers making products for private users.

The apps that did not update their products to become compliant within a month of Apple contacting them about this updated policy and therefore had to be removed, as it did in multiple cases.

The app makers responded that Apple had been unwilling to provide advice on what the precise problem was, and even accused Apple of trying to kill off the apps to reduce competition for its Screen Time digital health controls, built into iOS 12, which launched in late 2018, several years after some of these apps had debuted. Two of the affected apps are currently seeking a legal judgement via the European Union on these grounds.

MORE: Best Parental Control Apps 2019

The developers of these apps have now banded together to create a website demanding that Apple make a custom API (application programming interface), a tool that would let the apps use the same functions as Screen Time. This API would mean the third-party apps could guarantee that Apple would not have security concerns, while also being able to add their own unique functions as well. The group have even designed a detailed proposal on the Screen Time API.

This idea has been inspired by an ex-Apple executive, Tony Fadell. As The Verge reports, Fadell, who used to be senior vice president of Apple’s iPod division, and is also a co-founder of Nest, tweeted in April when the story originally broke that a cross-platform API was the best solution to the problem.

The New York Times also claims to have seen a message from Fadell to the app makers encouraging to make their move just before WWDC 2019, which takes place next week. It looks as though the developers took his advice, based on the timing.

It now falls to Apple to decide whether this is a reasonable proposal, or if it knows best and will continue to only allow parental control apps on the App Store with severely stunted functionality. It’s been resistant to givie APIs to developers in the past, but perhaps the attention and accusations of anti-competitive practices surrounding this most recent debacle will encourage a change of heart.

We’ll keep following the story and keep you up to date if anything happens.

Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.