Apple has approved an app that allows iPhone users to block advertisements in mobile apps for the first time, marking a new threat to internet companies such as Google and Facebook.
Been Choice was launched in the US this month and is more powerful than other types of adblocking software on the market, which are only able to eliminate ads from web pages. The service even prevents Apple delivering ads to its own News app.
It represents a significant new threat to the fastest-growing part of the digital media industry. Marketers will spend almost $69bn this year on mobile ads, according to research group eMarketer.
Been Choice is marketing its new service as a way for consumers to defend themselves against aggressive data collection by apps and advertisers. But it is likely to provoke fierce controversy among the owners of apps that depend on advertising.
“We’re getting into dangerous territory,” said Ciaran O’Kane, chief executive of Exchange Wire, a digital media analysis company. “If app developers can’t make money, there’s going to be a kick back.”
Software capable of blocking ads from appearing in web browsers has been available for years. An estimated 200m people worldwide use such software to block ads and associated tracking technologies.
To block ads in apps, Been Choice runs its users’ internet traffic through a virtual private network, or VPN. By scanning the data passing through the network, the company is able to filter out the ads. It can also block certain user data from being collected.
David Yoon, co-founder of Been Choice, said he created the company to give consumers “a choice about who gets their data, how it gets used, and who benefits from its value”.
To make money, Been Choice plans to allow users to sell their data through the app. The company is offering to pay people $20 a month if they consent to being shown ads and allow Been Choice to collect information about how they use their devices.
Mr Yoon said the company gives users “a clear choice” about whether they want to block ads or share in the value created by their data.
The ethics of adblocking has spurred intense debate in recent weeks. Marco Arment, creator of Peace, a popular adblocker for the Safari web browser, last month pulled its software from Apple’s app store.
Mr Arment wrote in a blogpost explaining the decision that while blockers “benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some [including many media companies] that don’t deserve to be hit”.
The trouble, he said, was that his adblocker “required that all ads be treated the same — all-or-nothing enforcement for decisions that aren’t black and white”.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment about Been Choice.
The iPhone maker has in recent months been attempting to position itself as a champion of consumer privacy and has raised questions about Facebook’s and Google’s approaches to personal data.
“We do think that people want us to help them keep their lives private. We see that privacy is a fundamental human right that people have,” Apple chief executive Tim Cook told NPR, the US radio network, last week. “We don’t collect a lot of your data and understand every detail about your life. That’s just not the business that we are in.”
Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw in San Francisco
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