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Analytics firm’s VPN and ad-blocking apps are secretly grabbing user data – Naked Security


A popular analytics platform has been secretly installing root certificates on mobile devices so it can suck up users’ data from its 20 or more ad-blocker and virtual private network (VPN) mobile apps, according to a BuzzFeed News investigation.

Both Google and Apple have hosed down their app stores to cleanse them of at least some of the apps from the company, Sensor Tower, which is used by developers, venture capitalists, publishers, and others to track the popularity, usage trends, and revenue of apps – analytics that you can sample in its Twitter postings.

The apps, which have more than 35 million downloads, neither let users know about their connection to Sensor Tower nor reveal that their data is being gobbled up by its products.

Some of the apps are no longer available, but BuzzFeed News said it recently traced a handful of apps in the Google Play store to Sensor Tower, including Free and Unlimited VPN, Luna VPN, Mobile Data, and Adblock Focus. Two of the apps – Adblock Focus and Luna VPN – were also available in Apple’s App Store. After BuzzFeed News contacted Apple, the company removed Adblock Focus. Similarly, Google removed Mobile Data after getting a heads-up. Both companies have said that their investigations are ongoing.

BuzzFeed News says that it managed to hunt down the apps’ owner after discovering code authored by developers who work for Sensor Tower. One clue was an online résumé belonging to a Sensor Tower developer that says he built “Android apps to power the Sensor Tower analytics platform.” His GitHub username shows up in the code of multiple apps. Another Sensor Tower developer says, on his personal site, that he’s…

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