LOADING ...

Why You Can't Find Parental Control Apps in the iOS App Store

Brendan Hesse May 03, 2019. 5 comments

iOS: If you’re having trouble finding a good parental control app in the iOS App Store, there’s a reason for that: MDM, or Mobile Device management. According to Apple, apps using MDM “incorrectly” pose serious security risk, and so the company is cracking down—but what does this actually mean?

What is Mobile Device Management?

Mobile Device Management (MDM) is a general term for any technology that allows one device to be controlled and/or monitored by another remotely. Parental control apps on iOS often rely on MDM as a means for controlling screen time, applying content filters, and collecting usage reports, because it’s the only way to obtain device permissions for these kinds of activities. Otherwise, your everyday app on the App Store can’t control your device to this great a degree.

This isn’t some newly implemented technology. MDM has been present on iPhone for years now, with Apple overseeing MDM certification for its devices and even controlling all MDM-based actions on iOS apps.

So why is Apple now so worried about apps using this feature in a way it wasn’t intended? The company now claims that apps with MDM can leave your personal data vulnerable and open to exploitation by hackers, hence the purging of parental control apps from the App Store.

On paper, the move makes sense. If an unwilling person is tricked into installing a certificate from a less-than-stellar app, they’ve just given over the keys to their digital kingdom—a privacy breach Apple would very much like to prevent.

“MDM does have legitimate uses. Businesses will sometimes install MDM on enterprise devices to keep better control over proprietary data and hardware. But it 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. 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,” reads a statement Apple published last last month.

Developers (try to) fight back

Several developers with parental control apps now affected by the new MDM policy have responded to Apple’s claims, and their arguments highlight some inconsistencies with Apple’s reasoning.

One app, OurPact, uses MDM to allow parents to set screen time limits on their child’s devices. OurPact’s developers released a statement using Apple’s own MDM documentation to refute the alleged security risks. You can read the full statement here, but the gist of the argument is that since Apple controls the entire MDM review process for iOS apps, properly vetted apps should not pose any of the risks Apple is warning against. As well, OurPact has been open about what it does and how it does it:

“OurPact’s core functionality would not be possible without the use of MDM; it is the only API available for the Apple platform that enables the remote management of applications and functions on children’s devices. We have also been transparent about our use of this technology since the outset, and have documented its use in our submissions to the App Store,” the company’s statement reads.

Some have suggested Apple’s actual reason for removing these MDM-enabled parental control apps is to curb potential competition with iOS 12's screen time feature. However, other reports point out that many of the apps were purged for various other violations unrelated to MDM, like the prohibition on creating “an App that appears confusing similar to an existing Apple Product, interface, app, or advertising theme.”

If you ask us, the whole this is a net loss for Apple’s customers, even though it is the security-minded approach to take.

What Apple’s purge means for you

Policy disputes between Apple and app developers are one thing, but the biggest concern for iOS users—especially for parents—is that parental controls/screen time apps are being removed from App Store.

This would be less of an issue if Apple provided developers with its own API for controlling screen time, but it does not. More importantly, many of the removed apps like OurPact, Kidslox, and Qustodio included features that iOS parental controls do not—such as filtering web content on non-Safari browsers and cross-compatibility with Android. Their absence leaves parents with fewer options for monitoring their child’s screen time (though there’s debate over just how effective screen time limits can be).

Hopefully, the outcry from developers and the feedback from users will force Apple to at least open up a discussion about the future of parental control on the App Store. For now, however, you might as well settle for using the parental control features built into iOS 12 . They’re not as robust when compared to the rival apps, but it’s probably your safest bet for locking down your kids’ activities right now. It might soon be your only one.

5 Comments

Other Brendan Hesse's posts

How to Set Up Wireless Audio Sharing in iOS 13 How to Set Up Wireless Audio Sharing in iOS 13

iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 come with a new feature that makes it much easier to share audio with your friends. Sure, you can go the “two of you use one half of a pair of earbuds” route, but that isn’t the best way to experience music or watch videos—both listeners miss out on one channel of audio, after...

Uninstall These Eight Browser Extensions That Stole Data from Millions Uninstall These Eight Browser Extensions That Stole Data from Millions

A massive data leak was recently discovered by cybersecurity researcher Sam Jidali, revealing private information for 45 major companies and millions of individuals. Dubbed “DataSpii” by Jidali and his team, the leak was perpetrated by innocent-looking Chrome and Firefox browser extensions that collected and distributed users’ browsing data—URLs that revealed private information about users and a long list of...

How to Use Faster Context Menus in the Latest iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 Beta How to Use Faster Context Menus in the Latest iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 Beta

The fourth iOS 13 and iPadOS beta has rolled out for developers, and while there are the usual list of changes and bug-fixes in Beta 4, one of the more interesting tweaks is a much more responsive Context Menu that you’ll be able to pull up on any device running iOS or iPadOS 13.To try it out, simply long-press...

Delete These Banned Apps From Your Android Delete These Banned Apps From Your Android

Google recently removed several apps from the Google Play Store after discovering they violated the Play Store terms of service—and, more importantly, could be used as stalkerware. That doesn’t mean they’re deleted from your Android device, though, so now’s a great time to remove them.If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, “stalkerware” involves giving a third party access to another...

Suggested posts

How to Set Up Wireless Audio Sharing in iOS 13 How to Set Up Wireless Audio Sharing in iOS 13

iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 come with a new feature that makes it much easier to share audio with your friends. Sure, you can go the “two of you use one half of a pair of earbuds” route, but that isn’t the best way to experience music or watch videos—both listeners miss out on one channel of audio, after...

It's Time to Find a Safe Deposit Box Alternative It's Time to Find a Safe Deposit Box Alternative

Safe deposit boxes are legendary for revealing items that fix problems—at least, they do in Hollywood stories. But in real life, safe deposit boxes may not be the haven for your valuables they used to be. A horrifying story from the New York Times recounts the tales of some people who put their valuables (think diamonds and rare watches)...

Uninstall These Eight Browser Extensions That Stole Data from Millions Uninstall These Eight Browser Extensions That Stole Data from Millions

A massive data leak was recently discovered by cybersecurity researcher Sam Jidali, revealing private information for 45 major companies and millions of individuals. Dubbed “DataSpii” by Jidali and his team, the leak was perpetrated by innocent-looking Chrome and Firefox browser extensions that collected and distributed users’ browsing data—URLs that revealed private information about users and a long list of...

How to Use Faster Context Menus in the Latest iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 Beta How to Use Faster Context Menus in the Latest iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 Beta

The fourth iOS 13 and iPadOS beta has rolled out for developers, and while there are the usual list of changes and bug-fixes in Beta 4, one of the more interesting tweaks is a much more responsive Context Menu that you’ll be able to pull up on any device running iOS or iPadOS 13.To try it out, simply long-press...

Delete These Banned Apps From Your Android Delete These Banned Apps From Your Android

Google recently removed several apps from the Google Play Store after discovering they violated the Play Store terms of service—and, more importantly, could be used as stalkerware. That doesn’t mean they’re deleted from your Android device, though, so now’s a great time to remove them.If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, “stalkerware” involves giving a third party access to another...

Check if Your Android Device Has Been Infected by Malicious Adware Check if Your Android Device Has Been Infected by Malicious Adware

Another wave of sketchy apps has been banned from the Google Play Store. This time around, the offending apps all came from one publisher, CooTek, who has been accused by the security firm Lookout of deploying the malicious adware BeiTaAd in its apps.According to 9to5Google’s summary of events leading to the Play Store ban, Lookout began investigating a number of...

You Should Update Your Sprint Password Right Now You Should Update Your Sprint Password Right Now

Sprint customers, change your account password right away—especially if you own a Samsung device.As originally reported by ZDNet, Sprint informed its customers that a major security breach took place on June 22. Hackers used an as-yet-undefined vulnerability on a promotional Samsung website to obtain Sprint customer information. Sprint has yet to disclose how many accounts were implicated or how...

Keep an Extra Car Key Fob by Your Bed Keep an Extra Car Key Fob by Your Bed

Most of us know the basics about how to make our homes unattractive to burglars—get a security system installed (or at least put one of those stickers in your window), keep a light on with a timer when you’re traveling, get a yappy dog, etc. But what do you do if you think someone might have ignored all your...

How to Get Through Airport Security Faster How to Get Through Airport Security Faster

Mile High WeekFlying the "friendly skies" is often hell, but it doesn't have to be. It's Mile High Week, and we're investigating everything flight-related, from how to score cheap tickets to the best time to book, from how to fall asleep on a long-haul flight to how to win the perennial war over armrests. Wheels up.  When you’re late for...

Don't Answer Unsolicited Calls from Apple Don't Answer Unsolicited Calls from Apple

Recently, you may have received an urgent-sounding voicemail from “Apple,” claiming your “financial activity” on your devices was at stake.Don’t worry—your Apple accounts are fine and the company isn’t calling users to personally warn them about supposed suspicious activity on their iCloud accounts or iPhones; it’s a common spoofing scam in which scammers mimic legitimate companies’ numbers to phish...

Language