Grace launches privacy-focused parental controls for iOS devices built with Apple’s Screen Time API

A new startup called Grace is launched to make it easier for parents to monitor and manage their children’s screen time and app usage on iOS devices. Although Apple offers built-in parental controls, many parents would prefer an app-based solution rather than having to dig into Apple’s tool settings. Additionally, Grace offers more customization on children’s screen schedules. With Apple’s controls, parents can only configure start and stop times for “downtime”, for example, instead of being able to set other times when app usage must be limited, such as school hours, family dinner time, homework time, etc.

Grace is also notable for being one of the first to be built with Apple’s Screen Time API, introduced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference last year. The new API allows developers to create an interface that works with Apple’s built-in tools to extend their functionality.

To use Grace, parents install the app on both their own devices and their children’s iPhones or iPads. They can then remotely configure a variety of screen time controls in an intuitive interface, including things like daily screen time limits, app time limits, in-app purchase limits, and can block time-wasting apps and more. Helpfully, they can also create screen schedules that better reflect a family’s own rules about how and when children should use their devices.

Picture credits: Grace

For example, if you want to block TikTok and Snapchat at bedtime as well as during school hours, there’s no way to do that today using only Apple’s own tools. Instead, Apple’s Screen Time controls allow parents to set time-based app limits, or “downtime” – a time when kids can only use approved apps. by parents and communicate with those you have authorized, like mom or dad, via phone calls and texts. In practice, this translates to parents configuring downtime to start at bedtime and extend throughout the night to keep kids up late on their devices, or they can choose to stay up late. activate only during the school day. However, this solution does not fully meet the needs of the family.

Grace, on the other hand, allows parents to create all different types of schedules for their children, not just a downtime schedule. This means that parents can limit screen time for different types of apps at different times. At school, kids might be allowed to access educational apps and web browser, but not entertainment apps, social media or games, maybe. During family dinner, all distractions can be turned off. Parents may also want to set up other screen times related to their own family rules, like bedtime routines, screen-free weekends, holidays, or anything else they choose.

Picture credits: Grace

Another advantage of Grace is that it offers enhanced website blocking with built-in filters that automatically block over 50,000 adult, gambling, weapons, alcohol and drug websites, and this list is up-to-date. regularly. Apple’s own Screen Time tools only focus on blocking adult sites.

Grace also adds quick action buttons that allow parents to pause restrictions (“Pause”) or block all apps (“Lock Phone”), without having to completely disable Screen Time settings. Any parent who uses Apple’s Screen Time will understand the benefit here. Often families are in a position where the usual rules are suspended – such as when the child goes to bed late at a slumber party, when it comes to school holidays, when he is sick at home or when ‘he earned some kind of extra screen time allocation system, among other things. But at other times, parents may want to ground a child by limiting access to their device – but don’t really want to have to remove the phone, as it’s also a way for them to communicate in case emergency. However, excluding them from all apps would be a punishment.

Picture credits: Grace

Grace’s app was created by co-founders, Liana Khanova (Product and Design) and Salavat Khanov (Software Development), both of whom bring relevant experience to their new project. Khanova previously worked on her startup focused on reducing children’s phone addiction by engaging them in interactive children’s books using AR. Khanov had worked on ad blocker and privacy tool 1Blocker. They note that their new application is primed and completely independent.

The team hopes that Apple will update the API to allow them to be even more competitive with the built-in Screen Time tools. They said the API today lacks the ability to show users how much time they have left and how much time they have used. They would also like to see an improved app switcher available, like the one Apple offers with a search box. And they would like the API to include the ability to set communication limits, as Apple’s own tools can.

“Despite all these limitations, I still think this solution is better for parental control compared to MDM-based apps,” Khanova said of why Grace is a better option compared to existing apps that used MDM solutions, a first workaround for missing API. access used by third-party Screen Time tools. “[MDM apps’] servers could be hacked and sensitive data leaked – like your child’s phone number, sites visited, search queries, apps installed, etc. The attacker could also remotely wipe the device,” she said. Additionally, “these companies can collect a ton of data and sell it to advertisers,” Khanova warned.

Picture credits: Grace

Screen Time management tools for iOS have had a complicated history.

Shortly after the release of iOS 12 in 2018, Apple deployed his own built-in screen time tracking tools and controls. But then the tech giant started a widespread repression on third-party apps that had implemented their own screen time systems, saying these apps did in a way that could compromise users’ privacy. Previous apps had offered creative solutions to meet users’ parental control needs – such as the use of VPNs or mobile device management (MDM) technologies – the latter of which were designed for enterprise use, and not for consumer applications. MDM-based tools could access a device’s location, control app usage, and set various permissions, which makes sense in terms of locking down employee devices. But Apple argued that the same tools were a risk to children’s privacy. While that’s fine, it also acted unfairly to immediately block these companies from continuing to operate as soon as it had its own proprietary solution, instead of allowing them to switch to a more secure solution, such as an API.

Not to mention that Apple had nurtured those same Screen Time apps and their subsequent updates for years, allowing developers to build businesses that were later destroyed by Apple’s policy changes. Apple CEO Tim Cook was even asked about this decision in a Congressional antitrust hearing held in July 2020, where the executive again defended the decision as it relates to consumer privacy.

Apple’s solution was the possible release of a Screen Time API in 2021 this would allow developers to build on Apple’s existing features in a safe and MDM-free way. This is probably the kind of technology that should have been introduced next to policy enforcement, instead of years later.

Now that it’s available, however, apps like Grace can exist without as much threat of deletion.

Additionally, at the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, the company demonstrated a few new features of the Screen Time API, including the ability to display app and device usage data in a more privacy-friendly way. privacy, which Grace says she will use to draw graphs and view activity similar to Apple’s own Screen Time system. It’s also now possible to manage screen time and restrictions not just within a parent-child relationship, but for yourself – another feature Grace is aiming to adopt later this fall.

Grace will also later roll out lock screen widgets to see how much screen time kids have used, new app shortcuts for quick actions, and Mac support.

Grace is currently a free download, with advanced features available through a $19.99/year subscription.

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