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Apple to Address Parental Control Flaw in Upcoming Update

ByHuey Yee Ong

Jun 9, 2024
Apple to Address Parental Control Flaw in Upcoming Update

Apple to Address Parental Control Flaw in Upcoming Update

Apple has committed to fixing a long-standing bug in its parental control system that permits children to bypass internet restrictions and access adult content by inputting a specific nonsensical phrase into Safari’s address bar. This flaw, initially reported in 2021, has remained unresolved, drawing recent attention through a Wall Street Journal report. Apple plans to address the issue in the next iOS update.

Apple’s parental control feature, Screen Time, has had a significant vulnerability since 2021, allowing children to circumvent internet restrictions on Safari. By typing a particular gibberish phrase into the browser’s address bar, children could effectively disable the controls meant to restrict their online access.

Despite the critical nature of this flaw, Apple has delayed resolving it until now, prompting concerns about the company’s commitment to safeguarding children online. The issue gained renewed scrutiny following a Wall Street Journal article, which has spurred Apple to promise a fix in its upcoming iOS update.

The loophole specifically undermines Apple’s Screen Time controls on Safari, enabling children to access unrestricted web content contrary to parental settings. Although this exploit was not widely reported to have been used, its existence raises questions about the reliability of Apple’s parental controls.

User Frustrations with Screen Time

Mark Jardine, an iOS developer and parent, voiced his frustration: “As a parent who heavily relies on Screen Time to keep my kids safe and prevent them from staring at a screen all day, I agree that the whole service is super buggy, feels like an afterthought, and there seems to be loopholes around everything. And it’s been like this for over a decade.”

Introduced in 2018, Apple’s Screen Time was designed to help parents manage their children’s device usage and encourage adults to be more mindful of their screen time. It quickly became a crucial tool for parents, allowing them to set passcodes to lock certain features and apps, limit device usage to specific hours, or block access altogether.

However, in the year following Screen Time’s debut, Apple began restricting third-party apps that provided similar parental control functionalities. The company justified these measures on security grounds, arguing that apps monitoring screen time required sensitive access that could be misused. Critics, however, viewed this as an anti-competitive move, leading to diminished alternatives and potentially less innovation in the parental control space.

Critique of Apple’s Restrictions on Third-party Apps

Over the past five years, dissatisfaction has grown among parents who find Screen Time cumbersome and full of exploitable gaps. Dan Moren, an Apple blogger, noted, “I’ve heard from plenty of other parents who’ve found Screen Time frustrating and full of loopholes. And this is after Apple started pruning third-party parental control apps from its iOS store.”

In response to the criticisms, Apple stated, “We take reports of issues regarding Screen Time very seriously and have been consistently making improvements to ensure users have the best experience. Our work is not done and we will continue to make updates in upcoming software releases.”

With the promised update, Apple aims to close this loophole and reinforce the reliability of its parental controls, ensuring that parents can trust their children’s online safety through its platforms.

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Featured Image courtesy of Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Huey Yee Ong

Hello, from one tech geek to another. Not your beloved TechCrunch writer, but a writer with an avid interest in the fast-paced tech scenes and all the latest tech mojo. I bring with me a unique take towards tech with a honed applied psychology perspective to make tech news digestible. In other words, I deliver tech news that is easy to read.

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