SAN FRANCISCO — They all tell a similar story: They ran apps that helped people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones. Then Apple created its own screen-time tracker. And then Apple made staying in business very, very difficult.
Over the past year, Apple has removed or restricted at least 11 of the 17 most downloaded screen-time and parental-control apps, according to an analysis by The New York Times and Sensor Tower, an app-data firm. Apple has also clamped down on a number of lesser-known apps.
In some cases, Apple forced companies to remove features that allowed parents to control their children’s devices or that blocked children’s access to certain apps and adult content. In other cases, it simply pulled the apps from its App Store.
Some app makers with thousands of paying customers have shut down. Most others say their futures are in jeopardy.
“They yanked us out of the blue with no warning,” said Amir Moussavian, chief executive of OurPact, the top parental-control iPhone app, with more than three million downloads. In February, Apple pulled the app, which accounted for 80 percent of OurPact’s revenue, from its App Store.
“They are systematically killing the industry,” Mr. Moussavian said.
The screen-time app makers are the latest companies to suddenly find themselves both competing against Apple and at the mercy of the tech titan. By controlling the iPhone App Store, where companies find some of their most lucrative customers, Apple has unusual power over the fortunes of other corporations.
Amir Moussavian, chief executive of OurPact, a popular parental-control iPhone app, said Apple had yanked his company’s app from the App Store, crippling the business.
John Francis Peters for The New York Times
Executives at the app makers believe they are being targeted because their apps could hurt Apple’s business. Apple’s tools, they add, aren’t as aggressive about limiting screen time and don’t provide as many options.
“Their incentives aren’t really aligned for helping people solve their problem,” said Fred Stutzman, chief executive of Freedom, a screen-time app with more than 770,000 downloads before Apple removed it in August. “Can you really trust that Apple wants people to spend less time on their phones?”
Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said at a conference this month that Apple had added screen-time tools to help people monitor and manage their phone use. “We don’t want people using their phones all the time,” he said. “This has never been an objective for us.”
On Thursday, two of the most popular parental-control apps, Kidslox and Qustodio, filed a complaint with the European Union’s competition office. Kidslox said business had plummeted since Apple forced changes to its app that made it less useful than Apple’s tool.
Apple also faces an antitrust complaint in Russia from Kaspersky Lab — a Russian cybersecurity firm that American security officials claim has ties to the Russian government — which said Apple had forced it to remove key features from its parental-control app. The company is exploring a similar complaint in Europe, a Kaspersky spokeswoman said.
“We treat all apps the same, including those that compete with our own services,” said Tammy Levine, an Apple spokeswoman. “Our incentive is to have a vibrant app ecosystem that provides consumers access to as many quality apps as possible.” She said Apple removed or required changes to the apps because they could gain too much information from users’ devices. She added that the timing of Apple’s moves was not related to its debut of similar tools.
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Apple is facing other accusations that it is abusing its dominant position to lift itself and bury rivals — an issue that has become more important as the iPhone maker expands into new markets like television, news and gaming.
Spotify complained to European regulators last month that Apple used the App Store to give its Apple Music service an unfair advantage over Spotify’s competing app. Dutch regulators announced this month that they would investigate whether Apple abused its control of the App Store.
In the United States, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democratic candidate for president, recently suggested separating the App Store from Apple as part of her proposal to rein in the American tech giants.
An Unhappy Parent
In early 2018, two prominent Wall Street investors urged Apple to address concerns that people were becoming addicted to their smartphones. In June, the company announced plans for tools to help iPhone owners track and limit their and their children’s phone use. It began offering the tools in September, tucked into the phone’s settings menu.
Shortly after announcing its new tools, Apple began purging apps that offered similar services.
Apple told the companies that their apps violated App Store rules, like enabling one iPhone to control another, although it had allowed such practices for years and had approved hundreds of versions of their apps.
Apple allows corporations to use such software to control employees’ phones. But last year, the company stopped apps from using the software to enable parents to control their children’s devices. The Apple spokeswoman said Apple had blocked the practice because app makers could gain access to too much information on the children’s devices.
Unlike apps such as OurPact, Apple’s tools don’t allow parents to schedule different times throughout a day when an app is blocked — for school or family dinner. And Apple’s tool blocks adult content only on its Safari web browser and some apps, not on other browsers or many popular apps, like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
Bruce Chantry, a 47-year-old father of two outside Cleveland, said he had used OurPact and Mobicip for years until Apple forced them to gut key features.
He has found Apple’s tool more complicated and less restrictive. His children have already found workarounds to Apple’s web-filtering tool and, unlike the apps he had used, it has no kill switch to quickly disable certain apps on their phones, Mr. Chantry said.
“It didn’t make managing these new digital threats any easier,” he said. “It actually made it more difficult.”
Apple’s tool has another shortcoming: It requires the whole family to own iPhones. Many apps removed by Apple allowed parents with iPhones to control their children’s Android devices.
Apple has also limited the options for adults who want to fight their own phone addiction. In August, it abruptly pulled down the Freedom app, which allowed users to temporarily disable certain apps and websites. Mr. Stutzman, Freedom’s chief executive, said that to return to iPhones, he was forced to stop blocking apps and to block sites only on Apple’s Safari browser.
Apple’s tool now appears to be one of the few ways to disable apps, if not the only one. Yet when a user hits an app’s time limit on Apple’s tool, it provides a single option: “Ignore Limit.”
‘No Reason, No Detail’
The app makers said they were most frustrated by the process of meeting Apple’s sudden demands. In many cases, Apple alerted them that their apps would be removed — and their businesses crippled — via a short note, according to correspondence viewed by The Times.
When app makers asked for more information, responses were often perfunctory and slow in coming.
“As a developer who’s been on the App Store for 10 years, I would expect some courtesy from Apple of at least a phone call to explain what we’re doing wrong,” said Suren Ramasubbu, the head of Mobicip, a parental-control app that had about 2.5 million downloads earlier this year, about 70 percent of them on iPhones.
On Jan. 19, Mr. Ramasubbu received a message from Apple that said he had 30 days to change the Mobicip app or it would be removed from the App Store. “If you have any questions about this information, please reply to this message to let us know,” the note said. “Best regards, App Store Review.”
Over the next 27 days, Mr. Ramasubbu responded four times seeking more information. He eventually resubmitted the app with changes he hoped would satisfy Apple’s demands.
Then, with Mobicip’s deadline just a few days away, Apple responded three times to his earlier detailed questions — with virtually the same message: “Your app uses public A.P.I.s in an unapproved manner, which does not comply with guideline 2.5.1 of the App Store Review Guidelines.”
“We hear you loud and clear,” Mr. Ramasubbu responded on the morning of Feb. 19, Apple’s deadline. He begged for answers: Could Apple tell him what he needed to do to keep Mobicip on iPhones?
“Any general direction, clue or specific guidance will be deeply appreciated. We have been one of the pioneers among parental control apps on the App Store over 10 long years and have always been playing by the rules,” he wrote. “Please point us in the right direction and we can take it from there.”
Five hours later, Apple responded with a 14-word message: “Your app has an unresolved issue and has been removed from the App Store.”
“No reason, no detail,” Mr. Ramasubbu said. “Suddenly we don’t have a business anymore.”
The New Business: Results-Driven Civic Engagement Programs
Civic Nation empowers individuals to become agents of positive change in their community, and we amplify ally organizations who share our goal to inspire, educate, and activate people around the issues that affect them most. Civic Nation thanks our friends at theDemocracy Fund for writing this story.
The health of our democracy is a balance between the citizens who elect our leaders, and those leaders who attempt to represent the will of their constituents. When only a small segment of the public lends their voice and authority to government by voting, those elected officials bend towards the will of that limited community. Nearly half of the eligible voting population does not make it to the polls in a Presidential election; if civic participation increases, a more representative government will be responsive to the needs of the entire voting public.
Increasingly, corporations are leveraging their relationships with citizens to change this. Businesses across industries use corporate social responsibility programs to promote civic engagement, proving that corporate giving is about more than advancing the bottom line. Giving back to improve the lives of others is intertwined with innovative marketing and engagement strategies.
Companies should prioritize social responsibilities and operate within a core set of values when it comes to the environment, their employees, and the community. In fact, consumers now expect this from their favorite brands, gravitating toward businesses that share their beliefs.
So how can corporations actually work to serve democracy, without running afoul of politics?
A new study published by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation analyzed eight companies that used civic engagement campaigns to mobilize employees and customers in the months leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. Each program was different but had the same goal of getting more people to vote, without the mention of any particular candidate or party ideology. The study details how Twitter, Spotify, and Snap Inc. used their respective platforms to encourage users to the polls, providing registration information, and encouraging users to share their experience at the polls with followers. Gap Inc. and Target focused on employees and sent out email reminders with registration links to encourage civic responsibility. Even though each of these companies used different tactics and approaches to increase voter turnout, all eight companies reported their programs were successful and created value for their organization.
Consumers increasingly demand that the brands they support take a stand on the social issues important to them, and the Harvard report included public opinion polling on the expanded role of companies in civic engagement. The poll found that 79 percent of those surveyed agree companies should take action, and 87 percent believed they have the power to make a difference. Additionally, a new Pew Research poll found the number one action that was “very important” to be associated with being a good citizen was “vote in elections.” The connection towards voting, participation, and strong community engagement are values most brands want to be associated with.
And the programs such as these seemed to contribute to major gains for our democracy: voter participation in the 2018 midterms was an all-time high, with 53.4 percent of eligible voters casting a ballot. These companies have proven that their efforts have a profound impact on encouraging voter participation, whether an internally-focused initiative to connect with employees, or a large public-facing campaign to engage consumers. The results of the Harvard study show that through their individual brands, companies reached non-voters using established and trusted platforms.
While not in the “traditional” playbook of giving money to health or poverty nonprofits – obviously worthwhile causes – the companies in the Harvard study put their resources towards assisting citizens in carrying out their most important civic duty. Civic engagement in 2018 allowed for voices of untapped populations to be heard, and promoted a more inclusive and accessible democracy. Furthermore, the study concluded that these corporate programs did so successfully with limited additional resources making the efforts not only effective but cost efficient. As one of the case study participants reflected: “It wasn’t as heavy a lift as I thought it would be, so the next time will be even easier.”
With the 2020 election on the horizon, it’s time for corporate America to decide how it will participate. Starting early is important, starting right now is preferred. The Harvard study provides a roadmap, valuable lessons learned and guidelines for what works. Hopefully more companies will get behind these efforts in the next election—and the American public will watch to see which brands express their patriotism not with platitudes, but with meaningful pathways to citizen action.
Read more articles from contributors to gain insights on how Civic Nation initiatives and the work of its partners are empowering people to agents of change and activate people to organize in their communities.
Anti-fracking activists hail resignation of shale gas tsar
Anti-fracking campaigners have welcomed the resignation of the government’s shale gas commissioner, who quit in frustration at “ridiculous” regulations limiting drillers from causing earth tremors, which she claimed were hobbling the industry.
Natascha Engel stood down at the weekend after just six months in the post and accused ministers of being too heavily influenced by climate change campaigners such as the Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and anti-fracking protesters.
The former Labour MP told the business secretary, Greg Clark, that “a perfectly viable and exciting new industry that could help meet our carbon reduction targets, make us energy secure and provide jobs in parts of the country that really need them is in danger of withering on the vine” because the government insists fracking operations are stopped if a tremor with a magnitude of 0.5 is recorded.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Sunday, she added: “If you applied the same standards to anything else, you wouldn’t build another school or a hospital, you probably wouldn’t have any buses or lorries on the roads.”
She said she could not understand “why politicians would listen to a teenager who tells children not to go to school”.
The environmental charity Greenpeace UK said the fact that Engel appeared to have lost patience with the pace of progress was “good news”, while the former Green party leader Natalie Bennett, said it was proof that “campaigning works”.
“Faced with a climate emergency, the last thing the UK needs is an industry that will only worsen our dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come,” said Rebecca Newsom, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics. “UK fracking has been a total waste of time, and we can’t afford to waste any more of it.”
Claire Stephenson, a spokeswoman for Frack Free Lancashire, said: “It is more evidence this industry is dying, if not dead. As far as we are concerned it is good riddance. More people are against fracking than are for it and opposition has steadily grown over the last four to five years. Everywhere fracking turns up there will be opposition.”
Engel formerly worked for Ineos, which has shale gas licences in North and South Yorkshire, the east Midlands and Cheshire. But her government-appointed role required her to be a contact point for residents “to take up their issues, help them navigate through the regulators, industry and government and provide accurate and timely information”.
When Greenpeace recently used the Freedom of Information Act to request email correspondence between Engel and Ineos and Cuadrilla, another fracking company, she supplied only a few documents, claiming: “I tend to deal with everything on the day and delete what has been done to avoid any huge build-ups or risk of duplication. The same is true of the few notes I take in meetings which I review in the evenings, action and throw away.”
An Ineos spokesman said the firm shared Engel’s “frustration at a lack of government action to develop a policy environment that would allow this fledgling industry to develop for the good of the UK economy”. Cuadrilla declined to comment.
Limits on tremors caused by fracking are stricter in the UK than in the US, causing fracking tests to be frequently halted. Engel believes the government’s refusal to relax the rules risks ending the practice in the UK altogether.
She told Clark: “We know shale gas can be extracted safely. We have the best regulations and regulators in the world. We know the positive impact it has on local communities, but we are choosing to listen to a powerful environmental lobby campaigning against fracking rather than allowing science and evidence to guide our policy-making.”
“Apart from its uniquely awful name”, she added, the process is “materially no different” from other methods of hydrocarbon extraction.
The government defended its rules. A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said it supported the development of the UK shale industry, but added: “We’ve worked to develop world-leading regulations based on the advice of scientists and in consultation with industry. We are confident these strike the right balance in ensuring the industry can develop, while ensuring any operations are carried out safely and responsibly.”
The shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, said Labour would ban fracking altogether.
“We don’t think it is responsible to lock us into that fossil fuel-related future at a time when we should be throwing our weight behind low-carbon and renewable technologies,” she said.
Engel’s resignation comes after a fortnight of protests by Extinction Rebellion brought parts of central London to a virtual standstill. The group has called on the government to reduce UK carbon emissions to net zero by 2025.
At this critical time…
… we can’t turn away from climate change. The Guardian’s environmental coverage reports the scientific facts, social consequences and political choices that are shaping the fate of our planet. As the world’s leaders turn their backs on the environment, we are at a crisis point. Individual consumer choices are important, but we need collective action to achieve the systemic change that will really make a difference. Our pioneering and our fearless reporting on the environment can play a vital role in that. But we need our readers’ support.
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Facebook Expects FTC Fine Could Hit $5 Billion
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook said it could face a fine of up to $5 billion as the result of an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. The agency has been investigating Facebook for possible privacy violations, but has not announced any findings yet.
The company set aside $3 billion in its quarterly earnings report Wednesday as a contingency against the possible penalty.
The one-time charge slashed Facebook’s first-quarter net income considerably, although revenue grew by 25% in the period. The FTC has been looking into whether Facebook broke its own 2011 agreement promising to protect user privacy.
Investors shrugged off the charge and sent the company’s stock up nearly 5% to $190.89 in after-hours trading.
Facebook has had several high-profile privacy lapses in the past couple of years. The FTC has been looking into Facebook’s involvement with the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica scandal since last March. That company accessed the data of as many as 87 million Facebook users without their consent.
The social network said Wednesday that its net income was $2.43 billion, or 85 cents per share in the January-March period. That’s down 51% from $4.99 billion, or $1.69 per share, a year earlier, largely as a result of the $3 billion charge.
Revenue grew 26% to $15.08 billion from a year earlier. Excluding the charge, Facebook earned $1.89 per share.
Analysts polled by FactSet expected earnings of $1.62 per share and revenue of $14.98 billion.
Facebook’s monthly user base grew 8% to 2.38 billion. Daily users grew 8% to 1.56 billion.
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