Sensor Tower has reportedly been operating apps secretly on both Android and iOS to collect user data. A BuzzFeed News investigation has revealed that the popular analytics firm has distributed as many as 20 ad-blocking and VPN applications on the Google Play Store and App Store since 2015.

Moreover, it is also worth noticing that none of these apps officially recognises any association with Sensor Tower. But, interestingly, the investigation team discovered that the codes used in the apps were authored by Sensor Tower developers. Furthermore, the apps didn’t disclose that data gathering operations were designed to inform the company’s analytics products either.

Apple Inc. officials have reportedly said that many of the apps owned by Sensor Tower have been banned from the App Store for violating its terms of service. Considering its several security risks to the user, Apple has enforced protocols that restrict developers from installing root certificate privileges on consumer devices.

Ad-Blockers and VPNs on your phone might be secretly collecting data

These apps usually install (or prompt the user to install) a root certificate on the smartphone to collect and monitor user metrics like data traffic. A root certificate file enables the issuer to access all traffic and data passing through the particular phone.

Although most of these apps had already been banned by the two app stores, a few of them were still available until the investigations were revealed. Free and Unlimited VPN, Luna VPN, Mobile Data and Adblock Focus were active on the Google Play store. Adblock Focus and Luna VPN were also active on the App Store. Most of these apps have also been taken down by Apple and Google while the remaining ones are still under investigation.

Sensor Tower attempts to defend itself

Randy Nelson, Head of Mobile Insights at Sensor Tower has said that the apps did not gather any personally identifiable information or sensitive user data like the passwords. The company has also tried to defend its case by pointing out that most of these apps are already inactive while others are on the verge of closing too.

He has added that Sensor tower indeed takes the app stores’ guidelines very seriously and makes a concerted effort to comply with them. Furthermore, he has also said that the company had kept its involvement secretive for competitive reasons.

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With increasing number of revelations around popular tech names using unethical ways to collect user data indeed raise serious concerns about user-privacy and security in this digital age. Do share your thoughts and let us know what you think in the comments below.