Apple Takes Down Smartphone Addiction Apps, Puts Up Their Own

By Bryan Le 04/29/19

Apps meant to help users limit screen time for themselves or their kids are having permissions revoked, or removed entirely.

man with smartphone addiction staring at screen

Developers of screen addiction-fighting apps say that Apple has been squeezing them out. The company behind the iPhone has been revoking permissions from some of these apps and outright removing others.

The crackdown comes after Apple released its own screen time-reducing feature, and some don’t think this is a coincidence.

According to app developers, Apple has been forcing them to remove usage-tracking features, even those intended for parents to limit how much time or what kinds of apps their children can access on their own devices.

Fred Stutzman, chief executive at Freedom, sees this as a conflict of interest considering Apple’s own usage-limiting features are not as aggressive or convenient as what apps like Freedom provided.

“Their incentives aren’t really aligned for helping people solve their problem,” Stutzman said. “Can you really trust that Apple wants people to spend less time on their phones?”

Freedom had 770,000 downloads from the App Store before it was removed in August. Whether users want or depend on the apps doesn't seem to matter to Apple, considering they removed OurPact, the most popular parental control app with more than 3 million downloads.

“They yanked us out of the blue with no warning,” said Amir Moussavian, OurPact’s chief executive. “They are systematically killing the industry.” 

Apple CEO Tim Cook touted their suite of screen time-related features at a conference this month, saying they intend to fight smartphone addiction. “We don’t want people using their phones all the time,” Cook said. “This has never been an objective for us.”

Representatives say that the timing is purely coincidence.

“We treat all apps the same, including those that compete with our own services,” said Apple spokesperson Tammy Levine. “Our incentive is to have a vibrant app ecosystem that provides consumers access to as many quality apps as possible.”

The app developers aren’t buying it. Popular parental control apps Kidslox and Qustodio are taking it up to the European Union’s competition office.

Two of Apple’s big shareholders urged the company to personally take responsibility for the “toxic” effects of excessive smartphone use early last year—though they probably didn’t mean it like this. 

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter