SAN FRANCISCO — Russian officials opened an antitrust investigation into Apple for restricting and removing parental control apps from its App Store shortly after the company released its own competing service, the latest sign of the growing scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s power.
Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service said late Thursday that it would investigate whether Apple had violated Russian competition law when it removed a parental control app made by Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity company, from the iPhone App Store. The Russian agency said that after reviewing Kaspersky’s complaint, it concluded that Apple had rejected the app, which it had previously approved, and set unclear requirements for app developers.
The New York Times reported in April that shortly after Apple introduced tools to help people limit the time they and their children spent on iPhones, the company removed or restricted popular apps that offered similar services. Apple said the apps improperly used technologies that gave them too much access to users’ data.
In June, Apple reversed itself and allowed the apps to return with the same technologies, as long as they promised to not “sell, use or disclose to third parties any data for any purpose.” Many of the apps have since returned to the App Store.
Apple said in a statement on Friday that Kaspersky had not submitted a new version of its app for review.
“Apple respects the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service and we are confident their review will confirm that all developers have an equal opportunity to succeed on the App Store,” Apple said in the statement. “We treat all developers the same, and invest a lot in creating a safe and trusted place for our customers to discover and download apps.”
Kaspersky said in a blog post that despite Apple’s policy reversal, the Silicon Valley company has still put parental control apps at a disadvantage. As part of its complaint, Kaspersky said Apple’s rules for returning to the App Store were vague, that Apple prohibits the apps to share data with third-party analytics firms to improve their services and that Apple does not allow the apps to use the same technology it does to help parents control their children’s phones.
Kaspersky has previously faced scrutiny for how it handles users’ data. United States security officials have said Kaspersky’s antivirus software has been a tool for Russian intelligence authorities, an accusation that Kaspersky has rigorously denied.
“The company has no ties to any government, and the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyberespionage efforts,” Kaspersky said in a statement.
The Russian investigation is another front for Apple in a widening clash with regulators over how the company oversees the App Store, which distributes millions of apps to customers’ iPhones.
Two other developers of parental control apps, Kidslox and Qustodio, have complained to European authorities that Apple unfairly blocked their apps. At least one American company has lodged similar complaints in conversations with Justice Department officials, according to a person close to the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were private.
The Justice Department is considering other antitrust complaints against Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, while the House Judiciary Committee is also investigating possible anticompetitive behavior by the four companies. Most of the antitrust scrutiny of Apple has focused on its control of the App Store.
Amid the increasing attention, Apple in May published a web page defending its approach to the App Store. It said it strove to create “a safe and trusted place for customers” and “a great business opportunity for all developers.”
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