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Is Apple backing away from its strict rules on what apps it lets into the App Store – or from its strict focus on user privacy and data protection? Or from both?

Apple backs off to avoid anti-trust investigations but is it now putting privacy at risk.
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The App Store has always been a tightly controlled and regulated place, and not one without its share of controversial bans and app purges.

But one of the announcements to come out of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday was that a previous ban on parental control apps had been lifted.

At the time the decision was made to ban these apps – that allow parents to control how their children use Apple devices – the tech giant said it had nothing against the practice as such. Instead, the motivation was to protect its users’ privacy – a message completely on brand as the key point on which the company is differentiating itself from the rest of the Big Tech pack.

Specifically, Apple said back in April that two pieces of tech – MDM and VPNs – were the offending components of the unlucky apps. Mobile Device Management (MDM) is what Apple referred to then as “highly invasive technology” that puts control of a device and sensitive data on it in the hands of third parties. Meanwhile, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) allow parents to block access to unwanted apps.

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But now, these technologies have become acceptable, Apple said in a post on its website.

There is a caveat: developers will have to refrain from using “any data” gathered in this way “for any purpose” – including by sharing it or selling it to third parties.

And what will Apple do to make sure developers actually adhere to this promise? They will have to “commit” to this in their own privacy policy.

It’s unclear how binding this commitment will be, or how Apple plans to make sure it is being applied in practice.

Meanwhile, the reason for this reversal of the App Store decision has not been explained, either. But the New York Times notes that that at the time of the ban, Apple faced accusations of being driven by anti-competitive, rather than privacy-loving motivations.

And Monday’s announcement came as US federal officials are “stepping up antitrust scrutiny of Apple and its peers.

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