The Been Choice saga seems to be coming to an unexpected conclusion – Apple is going to allow the in-app ad blocker to block in-app ads after all, including in Apple News.
Just not in Facebook, Pinterest, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, Google or any other apps that requires end to encryption, a process that prevents third parties from accessing data as it’s transferred from one device or system to another.
To recap, Been Choice released an ad blocker app in early October. Apple pulled it on Oct. 8, after only a few days of operation, citing privacy concerns around Been’s use of a virtual private network (VPN) that leveraged root certificates to filter out ad traffic and block third-party trackers in apps, even ones that require encryption like Facebook, Pinterest, Yahoo, Yahoo Finance and Google.
Been Inc. co-founder David Yoon and his team immediately removed the offending root certs, resubmitted the app and tried to liaise with Apple to determine whether Been Choice’s ability to block ads in Apple News was part of the problem.
After more than a week without an answer, Been Choice submitted a third version of the app that only blocked ads within Safari using Apple’s existing content blocking framework for iOS 9, meaning that Been Choice was now an ad blocker in the mold of Crystal, Purify, Blockr, et al. On Oct. 16, Apple reinstated the original app, “roots and all,” Yoon joked in an email.
Those root certs, however, had been disabled, which means it wasn’t blocking ads and trackers from Facebook, Pinterest, Yahoo and Google, although the app was technically capable of doing it.
“Given the mixed messages embedded in the events of the past week, we really need to understand thoroughly what Apple’s/the App Store’s preferences and policies are before we enable this process again,” Yoon said at the time. “We want to leave no doubt before pushing on this.”
That was a prescient decision: Apple got in touch with Yoon on Monday to say the original decision on root certs still stands.
Consequently, Yoon temporarily took down Been Choice in order to remove the root cert functionality and expected to have the app up again and blocking ads in apps by late Monday afternoon. This means the re-released version of Been Choice will be the same app that was available Monday morning, just with the root certs – which weren’t even being used – stripped out.
And unlike in October, Yoon can rejigger and repost the app without being forced to resubmit.
Apparently, Apple is OK with blocking in-app ads, but privacy concerns get its goat, which is why it forbids the use of a VPN.
Yoon for his part is adamant there never was an actual privacy issue around Been Choice’s use of deep packet inspection, despite concerns.
Been Choice gives users the option to block ads outright or earn rewards for choosing to share their data.
In earn mode, non-PII data is collected related to browsing behavior, app usage and usage history, and users are compensated for sharing that info in the form of gift cards and the like. In block mode, Yoon explained, ad and tracker traffic routes through Been’s VPN to be filtered, and none of that data is saved.
“Root certs are routinely used in VPN settings [and] Apple seems to have come back around to this view as well,” Yoon said. “The irony was not lost on us that given our core purpose – to regain, for our users, more control over their own privacy and greater ownership of the value of their own information – we should be pulled from the App Store based on privacy concerns.”
Update: As of 3 p.m. on Monday, Been Choice, sans root certs, was made available for download from Apple's App Store.