The threat of mobile ad blocking has been largely downplayed by observers and analysts because, up until now, mobile ad blocking apps could only block ads on mobile browsers – not in apps.
People spend most of their time in apps, and the majority of mobile ad revenue is generated by apps, not the mobile web. So analysts at firms including UBS and JP Morgan have downplayed the impact of the recent launch of Apple’s new operating system iOS9 and the avalanche of ad blocking apps that came with it.
But now there’s an ad blocker – “Been Choice” – that claims to block in-app ads too. Everything from ads within Facebook’s app (Been Choice claims it is the first mobile ad blocking app to do so,) to the New York Times, and even on Apple News.
Rather than just acting as a browser extension to Apple’s Safari mobile browser (which is how other popular iOS ad blockers such as Crystal and Adblock Plus for iOS work,) Been Choice uses a different technique.
It’s called “deep packet inspection,” which Been Choice uses through its VPN (virtual private network) to filter out ad traffic. It can remove specific content – ads – from the data stream using pattern matching. It works in a similar way that companies use deep packet inspection on their managed devices to ensure sensitive information never leaves their internal corporate networks. Been Choice also offers ad blocking on Safari too, creating a “bubble,” which the app’s founders say frees your phone almost entirely from all trackers and ads.
It’s not entirely clear why Apple approved the app – not least because it claims to block one of its revenue streams: the ads it sells in Apple News. Its recent update only allowed for ad blockers that blocked ads on its Safari browser, not other apps.
Back in 2013, Google removed Adblock Plus and other ad blockers from the Play Store. At the time Google said this was because the app violated a Section 4.4 of its Developer Distribution Agreement, which stipulated that apps cannot interfere with another app’s functionality.
Business Insider has contacted Apple for clarification, and we will update this article once we hear back. We’ve also contacted Facebook for comment about the claim that Been Choice can block Facebook ads.
Surprisingly, Apple’s app approval turnaround times for Been Choice were “very short”
Been Choice co-founder Dave Yoon told Business Insider that the company has been in contact with Apple about its plans for more than three months, and that its app approval turnaround times “have been very short.”
He added: “Other VPN-based ad blockers for apps have been approved, [such as] Disconnect to block ‘malvertising,’ and a selection of ads based on third-party trackers. We think Apple’s move to focus on user privacy is real – and is aligned with their position in the market vis-a-vis Facebook and Google. Android’s Google Play allows blocking trackers but not ads – and when we move next to Android, our app would most likely focus on that choice. So we are not unique in blocking ads in apps for iOS.”
Where Been Choice differs from apps like Disconnect is that it combines app ad blocking with browser ad blocking, and it offers users an unusual second option.
Users can choose between blocking and sharing. If users choose to share, they can opt to earn rewards for letting ads through instead. As a result, their device usage data will be sent to Been, which allows the company to act like a “Gallup or Nielsen” analytics consultancy, Yoon said. Been Choice’s iTunes page suggests rewards include PayPal and Amazon vouchers, and it is understood users can earn up to $20 a month via the app, in return for their usage data being sold on (in an anonymized fashion.)
Yoon explains the thinking behind the “choice” in a press release:
“We think this is a better way. And to offer a real choice to users, we think it’s necessary to create a powerfully comprehensive ad and tracker blocker. Anything less leaves us in the same muddle as we find today. The wide adoption of content blockers over the last 2 weeks speaks to the pent-up frustration users have with inconvenience and poor performance of their devices caused by advertising and advertising technology. But we think it also speaks to the growing disagreement with the assumption that user information should be rampantly leveraged to target ads. The data collected and the sophisticated methods available for their analysis is growing, and innovation derived from them are necessary. But consumers should have a say, a choice about who gets their data, how it gets used, and who benefits from its value. “
There’s not yet any suggestion Been Choice has become the iOS 9 ad blocker of choice.
AppAnnie data shows that since launch the Been Choice app has only risen to a peak ranking of 476 amongst all US utilities iPhone apps.
And the popularity of iOS9 ad blocking apps has waned since they first appeared in the app store on September 16. MarketingLand reported that just one ad blocking app remained in the iPhone paid app top 5 last week.
Nevertheless, the launch of Been Choice may open up the floodgates for more developers to explore making ad blockers that block in-app ads.
Meanwhile, Shine, a mobile ad blocking company that creates white label software that allows mobile carriers to block ads at a network level, announced it had signed Jamaica-based operator Digicel as its first official customer last week. Digicel intends to turn on mobile ad blocking – which will include in-app ads – for all its customers as standard.