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Apple Removes In-App Ad Blocker Been Choice From App Store

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Apple is concerned methods used to block ads in popular iOS apps could expose user data

Apple has pulled a number of applications from the App Store, most notably the ‘Been Choice’ ad blocker, because of concerns the methods they employ to rid adverts could compromise sensitive user data.

iOS 9 allows for the installation of applications that block adverts in Safari, but other apps like Been Choice go one step further and let users remove adverts from applications – including Apple News.

This is achieved by routing traffic through a VPN set up by Been which allows for deep packet inspection to remove the ads. The company claims no data is stored on its servers and it only looks at ad/tracker traffic, not more private information like banking details.

App Store block

Been Choice 1However it is this particular technique that appears to have attracted Apple’s attention because it allows third parties to see traffic and could expose iOS users to man in the middle attacks.

“Apple is deeply committed to protecting customer privacy and security. We’ve removed a few apps from the App Store that install root certificates which enable the monitoring of customer network data that can in turn be used to compromise SSL/TLS security solutions,” Apple told TechWeekEurope.

“We are working closely with these developers to quickly get their apps back on the App Store, while ensuring customer privacy and security is not at risk.”

Been co-founder Dave Yoon said it only unpacked the data stream to block ads from a select few applications – Facebook, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, Google, Pinterest – and only in ‘Block mode’. Users must explicitly opt-in to block mode and install a VPN profile on their device. There is also an option called ‘Choice’ to share data to earn rewards.

Ad block controversy

“We will remove this capability to block ads in Facebook, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, Google, and Pinterest tonight and resubmit tomorrow morning for expedited approval,” Yoon told TechWeekEurope.

“The ad and tracker blocking in other apps will not be impacted. We asked for explicit guidance on blocking ads in Apple News (not covered in the above requirement), and our contact at Apple would not give us a ruling. So we will submit a version that will continue to block iAds and see if we can get back on.

“The core proposition of our app, Choice, to enable users to better control their privacy and own the value of their own data, remains extremely relevant. And the new app will still present the most powerful ad and tracker blocking tool, and offer real choice to users.”

It is unclear if Apple was aware of Been Choice’s abilities when it was approved earlier this week but Yoon said it had always been clear about the abilities and intention of its application. However Apple’s change in stance highlights concerns that despite a vetting process, the App Store is not one hundred percent impenetrable.

Last month, hundreds of applications were found to be affected by malware known as XcodeGhost that can steal user’s private information in what was the first ever major attack on the App Store.

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