(Credit: Freedom.to)

As you've probably heard by now, mobile phone addiction is becoming a real problem. Market research firm BankMyCell reported recently that Americans are spending an average of four hours a day staring at their phones. Several social networking platforms and other popular apps have felt compelled to introduce tools to help people avoid unhealthy bingeing, and Android and iOS are getting features built into the operating system to help us monitor our usage habits.

SEE: How Android 9's Digital Wellbeing tool helps control your app time

Another way to fight binging is to use an app that strategically limits your access to other apps. Like not being able to access Facebook during work hours, or shutting down YouTube (Android, iOS) during the block of time when you're supposed to be sleeping. Until recently, Freedom was one such app, but Fast Company reports that Apple has pulled it from the iOS App Store, and it hasn't issued an explanation to its developer or to the general public.

However, we do know that Apple has been making moves against apps that interfere with the operation of other apps installed on the device. In particular, apps that block advertisements at the operating system level, such as AdGuard.

In theory, this allows you to use Chrome (Android, iOS) or Firefox (Android, iOS) and still block ads, which isn't otherwise possible in iOS; these versions are not compatible with add-ons, so you must either find a less desirable alternative that does block ads, or settle for Safari and its content filtering feature, or use something like AdGuard.

Unfortunately, apps like AdGuard were also being used to prevent ads from loading in other apps, despite ad revenue being the developer's main source of income. Ordinarily, removing ads in apps like these requires paying the developer a one-time fee.

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But with something AdGuard, you could bypass this transaction and basically use the ad-free version of an app without compensating its creator in any way.

Given the recent spike in the cost of an iPhone, a growing number of users may be looking for ways to avoid spending more money on the platform, in which case it's probably high time for Apple to step in and prevent developers from getting fleeced any further. Unfortunately, apps like Freedom appear to be getting caught in the middle of this fight, even though they have no impact on the actual display of advertisements.

In a statement, Freedom's developer said, "Apple has rejected all of our submissions. They have made it quite clear that Freedom will not be allowed to block apps, so our only hope is as a content blocker. We're incredibly disappointed at their decision. We do expect to get a release approved in the next few weeks. In the meantime, we will be focusing more effort on Windows, Mac, Chrome, and our new Android app."

Meanwhile, Apple has at least introduced Screen Time with the arrival of iOS 12. (Users of older iPhones may understandably balk at having to update to a new version of the OS, but the anecdotal reports we've collected indicate that Apple has focused extensively on fixing performance issues for this release.)

With Screen Time, you get a number of tools baked into iOS to monitor your usage habits and set system-wide limits. You can set time limits for specific apps, and you can establish blocks of time where only phone calls and a specified list of apps can be used.

But you can't prohibit a specific app during a specific time of day, which is where Freedom comes in. So we hope that Apple either restores Freedom to the App Store or adds the app's usage blocking feature to Screen Time.

The takeaways

  • Apple has removed the Freedom time management app from the App Store, and it has not stated why.
  • Freedom is an app for iOS that lets you block the usage of specific apps during specific times of day, to help users fight addiction to their mobile devices.
  • Apple may prefer that people don't use apps that interfere with the behavior of other apps.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.