Looking at your data
Privacy Risks in the In-App Ad Blockers for iOS

by Andrew

There are two iOS ad blocking apps that have been making the rounds recently – AdBlock Prime (since 2017) and Adblock Mobile, which is nowAdblock Luna, (since 2015) – that on their face are about the added user convenience of app and browser ad removal. On the other hand, there is a privacy tradeoff that comes with their services, with all signs pointing to the collection and sale of user data.

Data Dealers

Today, online companies can make money by somehow producing ads and, increasingly, by charging download or subscription fees to users of their products. It's reasonable to presume that unless those fees are being paid there is some type of ad-related business happening, and much of the time in those cases there is an ad business running adjacent to the subscription structure.

The specific activity might be in displaying them. Or, it might be in deciding where they are displayed, like by running an ad exchange. It could even be in distributing data collected from users to target ads to larger groups of users.

It's this type of data collection that make these ad blocking apps commercially viable.

So if you ever wondered about that ad about that thing you searched the net for, watched a few YouTube videos about or recently read an article or two on, that kind of data collection, known as online tracking, is its source.

Collector's Item

What ad blocking these apps do is only possible by monitoring operating system activity, which is like putting an x-ray on to all of the data that it processes. These apps are seeing all of the activity on your device that results from using the internet, including browsing and other-app activity.

There are technical differences in how it’s done – with Adblock Luna it’s by existing as a pass-through for web traffic (called a VPN, or virtual private network), and with AdBlock Prime it’s by being an MDM profile which lets it oversee all apps, and even install new ones if it wants to – but the end result is the same.

Specifically, these apps get the following details -

Your browsing history (including time spent on pages)

Your location

A list of all of the apps installed on the device

How often those apps are used

When those apps were installed

The last time the apps were updated

The time of last opening, and closing, of any of those apps

How long each app use session lasted

Whether the apps are on the homescreen

How much data the device is using

This phenomenon is documented further here as it relates to an Adblock Luna-affiliated company. Adblock Luna's data policy is here.

Revocability of the Data Exchange

Importantly, once this data is with these apps, contracts in place governing how they use it are exceedingly likely to have put that data past the point of no return - the apps' possession of it is irrevocable.

Still, it is possible to ask for data removal. To do that, send your request to this address for Adblock Luna - mobile@emban-networks.com – and this address for AdBlock Prime – support@adblockprime.co.

The More You Know

You can see for yourself how these apps treat your data. Read AdBlock Prime’s privacy policy here https://adblockprime.co/privacy, and Adblock Luna’s here https://sensortower.com/vpn-privacy.

Privacy Policy