Apps Purged by Apple Say It Holds the Key They Need to Get Back In

SAN FRANCISCO — Last year, Apple announced that it had created tools to help people limit the time they and their children spent on their iPhones. Around the same time, Apple began purging from its App Store a number of apps that offered similar services.

Now 17 companies affected by that purge say they have a technical answer to the privacy concerns that Apple cited for dropping them.

The companies on Thursday proposed the creation of an application programming interface, or A.P.I., a common bit of software that enables computer programs or apps to work with one another. The companies said the A.P.I. could tap Apple technology that would allow them to track screen time without invading privacy.

“Right now, technologically, only Apple has the right to do it on their devices, and we believe Apple should let everybody get a go,” said Viktor Yevpak, the head of Kidslox, a parental-control app that has been targeted by Apple.

The companies’ move puts added pressure on Apple ahead of its annual developers conference next week, when the iPhone maker interacts with thousands of app makers and lays out its vision for the year.

Apple is increasingly on the defensive over its tight control of the App Store. The high fees for access to the App Store and competition from Apple’s own apps are drawing accusations that the tech giant is abusing its power.

Spotify recently complained to European regulators that Apple used the App Store to give its Apple Music service an unfair advantage. Dutch regulators are investigating whether Apple abused its control of the App Store. This month, the Supreme Court allowed an antitrust class action to move forward, saying consumers have the right to try to prove that Apple used the App Store to raise apps’ prices.

And Kidslox and another parental-control app, Qustodio, filed a complaint with European competition officials over Apple’s forcing changes to their apps. Another parental-control app complained to Russia’s antitrust authorities.

Apple declined to comment on Thursday.

Apple has frequently created A.P.I.s to encourage app developers to use its technology. While the 17 app makers released a technical proposal on how it could work, a new A.P.I. would have to come from Apple itself.

This week, Apple published a web page explaining its approach to the App Store, saying it strives to create “a safe and trusted place for customers” and “a great business opportunity for all developers.”

Apple said it reviewed about 100,000 apps a week and rejected roughly 40 percent, typically for minor bugs or privacy concerns. (Security experts say the approach has made iPhones safer than Android devices.) Apple stressed that it welcomed competition in the App Store.

Andrew Armour, a developer whose screen-time app was rejected by Apple, said he and the other developers had begun to collaborate after The New York Times reported last month on Apple’s purge. He and Mr. Yevpak said they were upset that Apple had said in its response to the article that it removed their apps because “they put users’ privacy and security at risk.”

Mr. Armour said Apple had never said that when it removed or rejected their apps. “All they said was it went against one of their rules,” he said. “None of us were doing anything malicious.”

The developers said they were encouraged to act by Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive and one of the creators of the iPhone. Mr. Fadell spoke out about Apple’s actions against the screen-time apps and suggested the technology that the companies are now proposing.

Mr. Fadell corresponded with several of the developers. “I will push it out to the world — just make sure it’s done BEFORE WWDC,’” he said in one message seen by The Times, using the abbreviation for Apple’s developers conference next week.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Fadell said he had encouraged the effort but wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Because Apple has demonstrated that it can enable people to track the time they spend on their phones — as well as what their children are doing — without invading privacy, the developers said Apple should give them an A.P.I. that would allow them to do the same.

The companies said they had wanted such an A.P.I. for years but were forced to use workarounds.

Many of them used a technology called mobile device management, or M.D.M., which enables one iPhone to control another. Apple allowed the practice for years but changed its policy last year. Apple said M.D.M. gave the apps too much access to children’s devices.

“This isn’t a matter of competition,” Apple said in a response to The Times’s article. “It’s a matter of security.”

Apple has removed or restricted more than two dozen screen-time and parental-control apps, according to a review by The Times. Still, Apple has left up at least three apps that use M.D.M., according to Sensor Tower, a firm that tracks information about apps.

Several apps that Apple purged didn’t use M.D.M. but were told they had been removed for using a separate technology, virtual private networks.

Apple declined to comment on why it had removed those apps.

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