Apple is purging iOS ad-blocking apps and VPNs from the App Store

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Several notable and popular VPN-based ad-blocking apps have been paralyzed by Apple, which will not approve any further updates to said apps due to their non-compliance with the company’s App Store policy.

Apple specifically is claiming that these apps violate point 4.2.1 of the App Store Developer Guidelines, which states that “Apps should use APIs and frameworks for their intended purposes and indicate that integration in their app description”.

While Apple has technically had these policies in place for some time, the company has previously been lenient when it comes to enforcing them, which has allowed a wide variety of blocking apps onto the Store and a boom in their popularity. Now that Cupertino has decided to crack down on enforcing these guidelines, the creators of popular apps like Adblock and Weblock will no longer be able to upload updates to the App Store, although existing versions have so far not been removed.

Some ad-blocking is OK

Apple’s apparent issue with these ad-blocking apps is their “VPN-based” operation, which installs certificates on the device in order to block advertisements across all iOS browsers — including third-party offerings like Chrome as well as the Apple-owned Safari.

Officially, the only kind of blocking apps permitted in iOS are ones that utilise the official Safari Content Blocker API which, as the name suggests, only works on Apple’s native browser, Safari. 

Whether deliberate or not, this seems to be another way for Apple to enforce the use of its native web browser on its iOS. Competing browsers already need to comply with using the same iOS WebKit as Safari (policy point 2.5.6), effectively making any other browser a ‘wrap’ of Apple’s own, which often has the unfortunate consequence of poorer optimization and performance.

At present, iPhone and iPad users can continue using any affected ad-blocking apps in their current state, although given their inability to update, they will likely soon become incompatible with both iOS and the browsers they are designed for.

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