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Ad-blocking is becoming common on mobile devices, especially in Asia. Photograph by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Apple approved an ad-blocking app that even works on its own News app

Oct 06, 2015

In an odd move, Apple has approved an ad-blocking iOS app that even works on its own News app. This could be a philosophical statement about user rights, or, someone at the App Store review team took a nap at the office...

Been Choice, as it's called, claims to block ads both on mobile websites viewed through Apple's Safari browser and in native mobile apps. For the latter, it uses a VPN service, which routes traffic to Been Choice's servers where ads are wiped out before the user views the app's content. Been Choice was developed by Dave Yoon and Sang Shin, who met at McKinsey & Co. and have worked together for over eight years, according to TechCrunch.

Ad blockers have been around for a very long time, but have recently become a hot topic of discussion with both supporters and detractors. The latest version of Apple's (aapl) mobile operating system, iOS 9, supports content blocking extensions in Safari to help with page load speed and preserving battery life.

The twist here is that Been Choice doesn't just freely block out ads -- it also lets users to volunteer data and answer surveys in exchange for rewards like cash and soon, gift cards. Users can toggle between the simple ad-blocking mode and the rewards-earning mode inside the app.

Here's where it gets a bit crazy: the founders admitted to TechCrunch that more data about the user is shared through the Earn mode than would be organically when ads are enabled.

“It’s absolutely more data. And that’s what we set out to build,” Yoon said. “We think if you have consent from the user, and share economics with the user, you can gather better data. But the key question is consent."

“Today, it’s muddled and compromised. It’s an implicit agreement, and neither side benefits and both sides are left wanting more. More privacy and control on one side. More data and better data on the other. By providing a simple switch we are creating choice,” he says.

Been Choice's privacy policy says it gathers data like device information, carrier and network information, device IDs, app and data usage, “content of your communications and transactions” excluding financial and e-commerce applications, and “information about you," whatever that means.

The other awkward aspect of this app -- which again, Apple approved -- is that ads are a widespread revenue model for developers around the world. Making the app available to iOS users is counter to supporting Apple's very large and ever-growing iOS app ecosystem. It effectively blocks adds in Facebook's app, as well as those of Pinterest, Pandora, the New York Times, and even sponsored stories in apps like CNN's. Only Twitter, as far as we know, is immune.

But in any case, two things remain to be seen. One, is whether anyone will really care enough about a few extra bucks or a gift card to give up behavior data and fill out surveys, or if only Been Choice's ad-blocking mode will become popular. And second, whether the app will remain in the App Store for very long.

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