- Verizon this week removed the Block Ad Tracker feature from its Safe Wi-Fi service that promises to protect user privacy when subscribers use a public Wi-Fi connection. The telecom giant, which has about 151 million wireless subscribers, said Apple's App Store and Google Play policies instructed the company to remove the blocking feature or else the Safe Wi-Fi app would be removed from stores, per an FAQ on Verizon's website.
- The company in July introduced Safe Wi-Fi to help people safeguard their personal data and online activities from cybercriminals. A second feature, Block Ad Tracker, prevented ads from appearing in apps, while some websites weren't accessible because of the blocking feature, Droid Life reported. The number of Safe Wi-Fi subscribers hasn't been reported, nor has the number of people who have initially abandoned the service due to the removal of the ad blocker.
- Verizon is offering refunds to frustrated customers for this month of Safe Wi-Fi, and said they can cancel service by visiting the online portal. The company charges $3.99 a month for Safe Wi-Fi service on as many as 10 devices for each account.
Verizon's removal of its ad blocking feature from Safe Wi-Fi due to app store policies is understandable, given the app economy's growing dependence on ad revenue. In-app advertising revenue is forecast to almost triple to $201 billion by 2021 from $72 billion in 2016, data from App Annie show, as more marketers shift their media buying toward mobile platforms. Apple's App Store and Google Play also stand to benefit from the growth in ad spending by software developers that seek to stand out among the millions of apps that clutter the digital stores.
While many users were likely drawn to Verizon's Block Ad Tracker for its ad blocking features, ad tracking for years has been a contentious issue among privacy advocates, advertisers and publishers that depend on ad revenue. About one-fourth (26%) of desktop users and (15%) of mobile users use some sort of ad blocking software, according to an Interactive Advertising Bureau survey. Publishers have tried to fight back by preventing users of this software from gaining access to their content, which has convinced some consumers to turn off ad blocking altogether. One-fifth (20%) of people who don't have an ad blocker stopped using the software because publishers withheld access to their websites unless they disable it, the survey found.
Meanwhile, privacy advocates continue to seek ways to prevent online ad tracking and safeguard consumer data and browsing activity. Brave, the developer of a privacy-focused web browser, last month filed privacy complaints in the U.K. and Ireland that may become a test case for Europe's recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation. The complaint argues that Google and other companies are violating the law by sharing personal data about web users without their knowledge or explicit consent. Google said it has implemented strong privacy protections and complies with GDPR, per Reuters.