Remove Those VPN and Ad Blocking Apps That Were Spying on Your IPhone or Android
A recent Buzzfeed investigation found several popular VPN and ad blocking apps for Android and iOS secretly collect user data and send it to Sensor Tower, a cross-platform data analytics service for app developers. Tracking apps include:
- Adblock Focus (Android and iOS)
- Free & Unlimited VPN (Android)
- Luna VPN (Android and iOS)
- Mobile data (Android)
Apps could track user data by gaining root access to files and folders on the device – something Apple and Google don’t allow apps to do normally, but developers used a simple loophole to get around the limitation.
Many of the apps used misleading notifications promising additional features – like Luna VPN, which offers free YouTube ad blocking – if users downloaded additional files from a third-party website after installing the app. These “additional functions” will then ask for additional permissions, including root access, in order to function.
Both Apple and Google have banned malicious apps from their stores and are investigating the developer companies behind them in response to Buzzfeed’s findings. Users should uninstall the apps listed above, especially if you’ve downloaded any of them from third-party sources other than the App Store or Google Play. None of these apps have disclosed their data tracking behavior or their association with Sensor Tower. And they weren’t the only Sensor Tower apps, but the very latest available on every platform. If you have other VPN or ad blocking apps installed and don’t know who created them, do a quick web search to see if Sensor Tower was developed. If so, uninstall the apps.
It’s also another reminder to pay attention to app permissions, especially root permission. Don’t do this unless you are absolutely sure that what you are installing is safe and you need to grant root access to the application for a specific reason. This gives the app direct access to almost everything on your phone – all your files, folders, and applications – and full access to do whatever it takes.
And even if the application asks for “normal” permissions, they may not be needed. VPN doesn’t need access to your contacts or your camera, and ad blocker doesn’t need access to your file folders. Pay attention to the permissions the app is asking for and take a close look at them . If any of them seem unnecessary or suspicious, reject the request and delete it.