Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Screen Time Bugs

Joanna Stern (tweet):

Porn, violent images, illicit drugs. I could see it all by typing a special string of characters into the Safari browser’s address bar. The parental controls I had set via Apple’s Screen Time? Useless.

Security researchers reported this particular software bug to Apple multiple times over the past three years with no luck. After I contacted Apple about the problem, the company said it would release a fix in the next software update. The bug is a bad one, allowing users to easily circumvent web restrictions, although it doesn’t appear to have been well-known or widely exploited.

Parents who read this aren’t surprised. Apple’s Screen Time has seen more bugs than a soda spill on a summer’s day. Many report that the app time restrictions they set for kids—say, one hour for YouTube—don’t work. Last year Apple told my colleague Julie Jargon that it fixed a bug where kids could use their devices even during preset Downtime hours. When my son requests to download a new app, I often don’t get a notification, and the Screen Time interface doesn’t always accurately show how much my kids or I are using our devices.

The WSJ also wrote about Screen Time bugs last summer.

Mark Jardine:

As a parent who heavily relies on Screentime 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.

Ilja A. Iwas:

neatly summarizes Apple’s software quality for everything that isn’t used by Tim Cook daily.

David Friedman:

Three weeks ago ScreenTime just stopped blocking apps on my kids’ devices. I had no idea until I discovered that one kid spent every night watching YouTube shorts til midnight. For three days, every time I turned “block apps” back on, it turned itself off. (I changed the code so it definitely wasn’t my kid bypassing it). Then for no reason it started working again. How can I trust it?


every time I try and use it, it never works as intended and I always wonder if I did something wrong. This is a service that everyone (except Ninendo?) seems to have put the absolute bare minimum of effort into. And not just in the functionality but the documentation or capabilities too.

Don Whiteside:

It doesn’t help that they put out an API for it that’s just as mediocre and poorly supported. For the first year (maybe still?) it didn’t work as documented in the emulator. By the time I got two more devices I could devote to screwing around with it I was so angry about the whole situation I dropped the project.

Dan Moren:

I’ve heard from plenty of other parents, though, 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.

At the end of the piece, Stern details a number of other Screen Time bugs that she’s had reported by others. I’d add a few more, like, say, making a passcode that’s longer than four digits.


Update (2024-06-06): Nick Heer:

I find this chart is always wildly disconnected from actual usage figures for my own devices. My iMac recently reported a week straight of 24-hour screen-on time per day, including through a weekend when I was out of town, because of a web browser tab I left open in the background.


It sucks how common problems are basically ignored until Stern writes about them.

Jesse Squires:

The “Developer” app opened when I clicked on a WWDC video link (because of universal links).

I immediately quit the app and opened the link in a browser.

And yet… Screen Time reports 14h of usage. 🤦🏼‍♂️

Juli Clover:

In a statement to Stern, Apple said that it is aware of an “issue with an underlying web technology protocol for developers, which allows a user to bypass web content restrictions.” A fix is planned for “the next software update.”


So happy that Joanna Stern is bringing attention to this. Apple always tells you not to run to the media, but Screen Time is so buggy and parents have been complaining about it to Apple for years to no avail. Finally someone in the media says something and Apple’s like “we take this very seriously and will fix”. 🤔

5 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon


Screen Time is a fiasco. Even in its normal operation there are tons of bugs and workarounds that make it practically worthless. If you want to have another parent, use family sharing, or use it to manage a family watch? Good luck.

I’ll never forgive Apple for destroying the delightful chats we used to have with our kid.

This happened when they moved the Screen Time notifications into Messages. The conversation between myself, my partner, and our kid, which used to be filled with day-to-day talk, is now cluttered with Screen Time requests to the extent that it’s pointless to try to have a conversation in there.

And these awful Screen Time messages in LOCK UP the Mac version of Messages if you accidentally click into the conversation with your child. This has been the case for years.

And ridiculously despite TVOS being based on iOS, it has yet to add ScreenTime, when that would be so so so helpful. Parental Controls there suck (but at least they have them as compared to Roku).

Regarding Stern having to write about problems before Apple takes an interest, as Jeff Johnson says:

> I recall the old chestnut from the App Store Review Guidelines: "If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps." In reality, it always helps, and that's why we do it.

Ben Kennedy

Whoops, my link to his blog didn't work.

Leave a Comment