A number of app developers build third party screen timetrackers and parental control applications are worried that Apple's enhanced review of its apps in recent weeks is not a coincidence. With Apple's launch of iOS 12, the company has implemented its own built-in display time tracking tools and controls. Not long after, developers' third-party screenshots came under increased review from Apple, and in some cases rejections and relocations from the App Store.
The affected developers have used a variety of methods to track the display time, since there has been no official way to track down on these data. This included the use of background placement, VPN and MDM-based solutions, and sometimes a combination of methods.
A small amount of half past twelve or so developers began discussing their problems among them in the last couple of months. But not everyone wanted to go to record. After all, the public Apple does not criticize something that many developers feel comfortable with, especially when their business is at risk.
But some took to the company's blogger to report their problems when they thought they had reached the end of the road.
In October, the digital detox app called Mute announced announcement of removal from the App Store at the same time as many other time tracking programs had been noticed. 
Then the three-year screen space program did the same after removal from the App Store in November.
They were not alone. Several others, who will not be cited, also opposed rejection.
Some of the developers we understand were told that they were in violation of App Store Developer Guideline 2.5.4, which states when multitasking apps are allowed to use background placement. In particular, developers were told that they were " abusing background location mode for purposes other than location-related features."
Others were told their app violates Developer Guideline 2.5.1, which references use public APIs in an unauthorized manner.
And others were still told how they implemented screen time and parental control was no longer allowed.
Above: Space on iOS
In a strange turn of events, after Space and Mute published on their public company blogs to complain, they received a call from Apple and got their apps reinstated on the App Store .
Apple representatives asked companies about how they handle data integrity, reminding them that they must have a customer-facing feature that requires location-based services to legitimize the use of such an approach, they reported.
"We are, of course, extremely grateful that Apple has chosen to continue to let our business operate," said Space CEO Georgina Powell.
But these were not isolated events. Across the third-party app screen app application, the app was under review – in some cases, after being in operation for several years without events.
Over: Moment app on iOS
But at the same time, some apps got a passport – as if Apple makes its decisions on a one-time basis.
For example, an app called Moment – as TechCrunch has covered sometimes over the last four years, and has been featured by Apple – also received a call from Apple, we learned.
Apple had some questions at the moment as they responded to Apple's satisfaction. The app was not removed or threatened.
Asked if they were worried at all about increased review, Moment's creator Kevin Holesh reacted, "I feel confident about Moment's future after talking to Apple." But he added that he is now "mostly looking at how things are going on with this issue in the future."
The creator of the screen time app solution and hardware device Circle with Disney is also unaffected, we were told. (But then, imagine the consumer's setback if your $ 99 home network device just stopped working.)
Although not all of the apps got started, Apple seemed to have a problem with screen time programs that took advantage of Mobile Device Management (MDM) and / or VPN for operation.
For example, the developer behind Kidslox implemented a combination of MDM and a VPN for screen time and parental control. The app tracks the time the device is connected to VPN for screen time, as Apple said it could no longer do.
Kidslox CEO Viktor Yevpak tried to explain that a VPN was needed for more than just screen time. The app also includes a feature that checks websites against a blacklist for the kids to be able to surf safely when they were connected via VPN.
"I said it must be a midfield because you almost kill the whole company," Yevpak told TechCrunch, and retrieved his conversations with Apple's app review. "We have over 30 people working on it and you tell us to shut up," he told them.
After several rejections of updates to the Kidslox app, the developer finally took to the company's blog to call Apple what it thought was " systematic destruction "of third party display time management industry.
Like many we spoke to, he is very suspicious at Apple's review, given that the iOS 12's screening mode has just been launched.
Kidslox is still available on App Store today, but updates are not approved. Yevpak says that the company has discussed ways to pivot the business as it seems that time goes by.
Apple, of course, has never thought that VPN will be used for time tracking or parental control-focused MDM technology to be implemented in consumer-based applications. And by allowing use to date in apps like these, Apple had given up control over how its devices could be used by consumers.
However, its policies do not match App Store approvals. Apple has the green light – and it has been directly aware – screen time programs that use MDM in ways that have broken their policies for years.
About: OurPact's App Rules Allow Parents to Block Programs
One point in points is OurPact (especially our OurPact Jr. product), an app that uses MDM technology to allow parents to control whether and when the children can use specific programs on the phone, block texting, filtering online, and much more. Its apps – a design for the parents and the other for the child – have been live for four years. OurPact now states that Apple will no longer allow the company to use MDM for its purposes.
"Our team has received confirmation from Apple that manages program access and content outside of IOS Screen Time will not be allowed in the Apple device's ecosystem," says Amir Moussavian from OurPact's parent company Eturi Corp., in a statement to TechCrunch. "It's incredibly disappointing that Apple chooses to dissolve the IOS parental control market at a time when childhood and youth screens-time management is finally understood as a necessity."
The company says its OurPact Jr. app, the app designed for the child's device is affected by the change. But the overall app continues to operate.
Apple's permission to allow these "rulebreakers" apps to alert developers to revert to screen space, that MDM was deceived in these scenarios, even though Apple's own terms and conditions said otherwise.
Developer Andrew Armor from ACTIVATE Fitness said he decided to implement MDM for a screen time management solution for iOS after many other developers had already done the same for several years, he told TechCrunch.
"I've sunk all my life savings in the development of this mobile application to give families a solution to better regulate and manage screen time while promoting physical activity," said Armor, talking about App Appeal's rejection. "After two Years of hard work and determination, My Entrepreneurial Day to Introduce ACTIVATE Fitness to the World has been terminated due to an Apple rejection in an erroneous and unfair review process, "he complained.
Apple could choose to release an official Screen Time API or prepare exceptions for display time programs that use MDM or other technology. However, its decision to instead alert the entire third-party industry after rolling out its own display time solution seems to indicate that it now wants to control the experience of screen-time monitoring on iOS and do not let it stand up to these third parties .
At the end of the day, the decision is bad for consumers because Apple's solution does not offer many of the features of MDM-based solutions focused on parental control. For example, parents using third party screening solutions can hide specific apps from children's home screens and check when these apps work.
Apple refused to comment on the matter.
But sources familiar with Apple's thinking rejected this as being a sort of targeted breakdown against third party screening programs. Instead, pushback developers received a part of Apple's ongoing app review process, they said, and noted that the rules these apps are breaking into have been in place for many years.
That's a fair point. Apple may choose to enforce its rules at all times, and building apps in violation of these rules is never a good idea – especially when developers consciously exploit the technologies in ways they should know that Apple never intended.
As mentioned, a decision to clean the App Store of third party screening time and parental control patches is one that can come over to the affected end users of these apps as in bad taste.
In recent months, big tech companies – including Facebook and Google – have become aware of the dependence of our devices and apps we use and the negative effects on our mental health. They have all rolled out solutions to counter this problem. For Apple to look like tumbling down on the actual apps that have tried to fight these issues this year – before Silicon Valley noticed – is not a great look.