For the first time since it introduced its own ad-blocking support, Apple has approved an app which allows users to block adverts inside mobile apps – even the company’s own ad-supported Apple News.
The app, named Been Choice, is only available on the US app store, where it arrived on Tuesday. It uses the new ad-blocking features included in the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system to let users block adverts in the Safari web browser, similar to other adblockers such as Crystal or Purity.
But where Been Choice differs from those apps is its addition of a second mode, which allows users to block ads in apps as well as the mobile browser. That mode works by funnelling all the phone’s web traffic through a virtual private network (VPN) run by Been themselves, which then strips out the adverts before they arrive at the user’s phone.
Technologically, the feature uses a tool included in iOS to let businesses ensure their employees only connect to their networks in a secure manner.
It is unclear whether Apple even knew the feature was included in Been Choice when it approved the app. The company has not replied to a request for comment, but the Guardian understands from developer testimony that the app-store approval process is frequently minimal. Been Choice mentions that it can block adverts in-app in the text of its iTunes store page, but includes no screenshots showing the functionality directly.
When a similar app, Adblock Plus, attempted to block ads in-app on Android, Google removed it from the store saying that it “interferes with or accesses another service or product in an unauthorised manner”. Other apps which work in the same way as Been Choice have also been on the Apple App Store for some time, however: one, Adbl0ck Mobile has been on the store since November 2014.
Both apps trade one problem for another, however. While they successfully strip adverts from most sites and apps, in doing so they require the user to funnel all their net traffic through the developer’s servers. For some users, that may be a step too far in terms of trust, although Been’s co-founder, Dave Yoon, promised that the company wouldn’t store any of the intercepted information:
“While we inspect headers and the body, no user content is stored, and our filtering is done on the fly,” he told TechCrunch. “This approach may be more familiar in its corporate form. For example, companies use deep packet inspection on their managed devices to ensure that sensitive information never leaves internal corporate networks.”
• This piece was updated to clarify that Been Choice was not the first app to use VPNs to block adverts.
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 7th October 2015 12.33 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010