Dear Apple, Accountability Apps Need Your Help

Dear Apple,

You surely know as well as I do that an iPhone is so much more than just a phone. With apps that organize my steps to success and let me set consequences for failing, my iPhone helps me become the person I know I should be.

… until it doesn’t.

So, we need to talk.

If you saw Safe Internet For Smartphones, then you’ve met my friends, the iOS apps Accountable2You and CovenantEyes. I’d like to introduce another, X3Watch.

You’ve made life very hard for them – and their friends – on iOS. That means you’ve made life hard for me, too.

With one of these apps installed, my phone shares my internet activity with my wife and my human friends (my “accountability group”) – because I asked it to. I trust that app to see everything I do on the Internet. Knowing that everything is shared helps me stay away from those terribly tempting websites that set me up for failure.

But you’re doing everything you can to keep my accountability group from finding out.

The only way my friends can see what I do on my iPhone is if I use the Safari-replacement app from one of those companies I mentioned. I’d love to use native apps like Twitter and Facebook for social media, and many other native apps for research and communication. But as soon as I click a link that opens an embedded browser inside the app, my accountability app can’t see it. So I’ve had to uninstall those native apps and use their mobile web replacements instead.

The mobile web versions are not nearly as usable as the native apps I had to uninstall. Often whole features are missing, or they’re not well suited for touch. It’s not an ideal experience. But that’s the experience I’m left with if I want to stay accountable – in iOS, that is.

I understand that you’re trying to protect me from bad apps who want to spy on me. Thank you for that. I do appreciate it. But I sure would like a way to tell you I trust a third-party app to see what I’m doing.

My Android tablet lets me do that.

My Request

Apple, you came very close by introducing Safari extensions in iOS 8, but there’s still a gap to fill. If iOS would offer a permission setting to let an app see the URL and browser title of every page I visit, accountability apps would work like we want them to.

I also understand you don’t want one of your customers to be tricked into trusting a malicious app. That’s fair. It’s good to take that kind of threat seriously. If you want me to tap a button seven times or jump through some other obtuse set of hoops, that’s fine. I will jump through hoops.

In your next release of iOS, please give accountability apps a way to find out what’s happening on web pages hosted in Safari and other native apps. If you do, I’ll be happy to stick with the iPhone.

If not, I’ll be practicing my “OK, Google.”

Take Action

Help Apple see the value of real accountability apps. Please share links to this article as widely as you can.

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