Because iPads come with Screen Time, an inbuilt parental control function, it may seem like a no-brainer for parents to give their children one.

However, most parents will also acknowledge that the system is unquestionably flawed. According to Joanna Stern of The Wall Street Journal, Apple is currently addressing one of the biggest problems in the software. It was an apparently obscure bug that allowed children to view the darkest sections of the internet even though there were settings to prevent it.

The way the problem works is that children can insert a certain string of characters into Safari’s browser bar to get around content controls. According to Stern, when security researchers Andreas Jägersberger and Ro Achterberg reported this defect twice in 2021, they were both informed that it wasn’t a security flaw. She adds that it doesn’t seem like this specific issue has been used very often.

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Over a period of three years, the researchers were reportedly informed on multiple occasions that the issue wasn’t related to security and were instead sent to Apple’s software defect feedback facility. However, the business informed Stern that a remedy will be included in the upcoming iOS software update when they contacted them to share their results and their difficulties with Apple. The business “maintains the flaw was a software issue, not a security vulnerability,” according to Stern. Okay. It’s being fixed, at least.

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The narrative emphasizes how terribly undersupported Apple’s parental control software is still. Despite having that glossy Apple sheen, the feature’s functionality is hindered by issues like as those mentioned by Stern, such as the inability to receive requests for additional time or the sporadic blank screen usage chart. These are the main elements that contribute to Screen Time’s utility. (Stern points out that subsequent software upgrades from Apple addressed a number of problems.)

This is exacerbated by Apple’s apparent deliberate lack of competitors. After introducing Screen Time in iOS 12, it restricted or eliminated third-party parental control software alternatives for its ecosystem in 2019. The business claimed at the time that the applications were improperly utilizing its enterprise-focused mobile device management (MDM) profiles, which allow for control over iPhones that are provided by the company. Apple banned apps that used the advanced administration capability, which was a logical step given the actual risks that this kind of access presents.

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A group of developers of parental control apps came together in response to the criticism around the move and demanded an API for their apps, giving the firm more control over user access while enabling them to compete with Screen Time. While Apple never offered that, it did take a different tack and unbanned some apps while allowing parental control apps to access some MDM features in specific situations.

However, compared to utilizing the built-in system, using a third-party parental control tool might be far more complicated. It takes a lot of hoops to pass through to set up an app that genuinely offers something like Screen Time integration. For example, in order to use the Qustodio app, I had to download an app to my phone and create an account. I then had to download and install an MDM profile, obtain a different app for my kids’ device, and log in using the account I created. I would have to go through those processes again if I wanted to use a second device for this. This process, I assume, discourages many parents from trying out alternative apps, leaving Apple essentially without competition and parents with a poor experience. An official API would have made this process simpler.

As with the flaw that prevented parents’ Downtime limits—time restrictions on when a device can be used—from being saved, this leaves consumers at Apple’s mercy as they wait f

or the company to release patches. The release notes for iOS 17.1 do not mention that, although Apple is said to have addressed that in January.