Make way for another antitrust investigation into big tech. Step forward Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS), which has opened an official probe of Apple — following a complaint lodged in March by security company Kaspersky Labs.
Kaspersky’s complaint to FAS followed a change in Apple’s policy towards a parental control app it offers, called Kaspersky Safe Kids. Discussing the complaint in a blog post the security firm says Apple contacted it in 2017 to inform it that the use of configuration profiles is against App Store policy, even though the app had been on Apple’s store for nearly three years without it raising any objections.
Apple told Kaspersky to remove configuration profiles from the app — which it says would require it to remove two key features that makes it useful to parents: Namely, app control and Safari browser blocking.
It also points out that the timing of Apple’s objection followed Apple announcing its Screen Time feature, in iOS 12 — which allows iOS users to monitor the amount of time they spend using certain apps or on certain websites and set time restrictions. Kaspersky argues Screen Time is “essentially Apple’s own app for parental control” — hence raising concerns about the potential for Apple to exert unfair market power over the store it also operates by restricting competition.
We’ve reached out to Apple for comment on the FAS investigation. The company referred Reuters to a statement it made in April about its policy towards parental control apps, following other complaints.
In the statement Apple says it removed several such apps from the App Store because they “put users’ privacy and security at risk” — calling out the use of what it described as “a highly invasive technology called Mobile Device Management” (MDM).
But Kaspersky claims its app does not, and never did, use MDM.
Following complaints and some press attention to Apple’s parental control apps crackdown), the company appears to have softened its stance on MDM for this specific use-case — updating the App Store Review Guidelines’ to allow using MDM for parental controls in limited cases.
Kaspersky also says that the Apple Developer Enterprise Program License Agreement “clarifies that the use of MDM-profiles and configuration profiles in applications for home users is only possible with the explicit written consent of Apple”.
However it argues that Apple’s updated rules and restrictions still “do not provide clear criteria allowing the usage of these profiles, as well as information on meeting the criteria, which is needed for obtaining written consent from Apple to use them”. Hence it’s not willing to drop its complaint yet.
It says it’s also continuing to prepare to file an antitrust complaint over the same issue in Europe — where a separate competition-related complaint was recently filed against Apple by the music service Spotify.
Kaspersky says now that only official written confirmation from Apple — of “the applicability of the new p.5.5. “App Store Review Guidelines” for Kaspersky Safe Kids for iOS” — will stay its complaint.
Russia’s FAS has shown itself to be relatively alacritous at handling big tech antitrust complaints — most notably slapping Google with an order against bundling its services with Android back in 2015, a few months after local search giant Yandex had filed a complaint.
It took the European Union’s competition regulator several more years before arriving at a similar conclusion vis-a-vis Google’s competition-blocking Android bundling.