Apple Removes Over 250 iOS Apps With Ad SDK That Collects Personal User Data

SourceDNA, an analytics service that tracks iOS and Android code, has discovered hundreds of iOS apps that collect personally identifiable user information, including Apple ID email addresses and device identifiers, through a Chinese third-party advertising SDK called Youmi that is prohibited by App Store guidelines.

App-Store-About
The analytics firm, using its new developer tool Searchlight, found 256 affected apps, with an estimated 1 million total downloads, using one of the versions of Youmi in violation of user privacy. Its report claims most of the developers who used the SDK are located in China, and that many were likely unaware of the threat since the tool kit is delivered in binary form and obfuscated.

Ars Technica explained in more detail about the information gathered "gradually over the past year or so" by apps using Youmi:

SourceDNA researchers found four major classes of information gathered by apps that use the Youmi ad SDK. They include:

1. A list of all apps installed on the phone
2. The platform serial number of iPhones or iPads themselves when they run older versions of iOS
3. A list of hardware components on devices running newer versions of iOS and the serial numbers of these components, and
4. The e-mail address associated with the user’s Apple ID

The personal info is reportedly gathered via private APIs and then routed through Youmi's servers in China.

Apple released a statement saying it will remove apps with Youmi from the App Store, and reject future submissions using the SDK:

“We’ve identified a group of apps that are using a third-party advertising SDK, developed by Youmi, a mobile advertising provider, that uses private APIs to gather private information, such as user email addresses and device identifiers, and route data to its company server. This is a violation of our security and privacy guidelines. The apps using Youmi’s SDK have been removed from the App Store and any new apps submitted to the App Store using this SDK will be rejected. We are working closely with developers to help them get updated versions of their apps that are safe for customers and in compliance with our guidelines back in the App Store quickly.”

SourceDNA sent a full list of affected apps to Apple, including the official McDonald's app in China, but did not share it publicly. Developers can check if their apps are affected using the analytics firm's Searchlight tool.

This discovery comes weeks after iOS malware XcodeGhost was disclosed, which arose from a malicious version of Xcode, Apple's official tool for developing iOS and OS X apps. Apple also patched YiSpecter malware in iOS 8.4.

Top Rated Comments

jettredmont Avatar
78 months ago
through a Chinese third-party advertising SDK called Youmi ('https://www.youmi.net/')
So, another issue with wide swathes of apps from China. Not to be nationalist over this, but it seems there is a clear disease running through China putting its product on par with former-Soviet countries in terms of general trustability. The fact that this private information is being sent through the Great Firewall of China and not being hindered by that at all seems significant (Chinese developers complain that it is too slow to download Xcode across that firewall, but sending all this data from millions of phones and devices around the world to their servers over the same firewall is business as usual?)

"Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" seems an understatement.

I trust any corporation about as far as I can throw them, but it seems those residing in China give even less of a pause before assuming that anything they can grab is fair game.

When will apps start displaying "Designed and developed in the USA" badges?
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
doboy Avatar
78 months ago
These apps should be banned, but doesn't sound too serious. Google likely collects more data ;)
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
asmartkid82 Avatar
78 months ago
I think the real question is: How many apps (and how long) have been making use of private APIs using similar techniques? How many apps do we have in our devices that have bypassed App Store validation using similar procedures? And I assure you, as a developer, that this is not a difficult thing to do at all…
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Benjamin Frost Avatar
78 months ago
Good to see apps taking personal data being removed.

Presumably FaceBook and Google will be next on the list.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Rigby Avatar
78 months ago
How did these get approved in the first place? It seems something like this should be pretty easy to detect by Apple.
It isn't. In Objective C it's possible to construct API calls at runtime, so there's no easy way to discover them using static code analysis. And you can implement various methods to try and avoid making the calls while the app is in the review process.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
2457282 Avatar
78 months ago
Why does Apple allow these private APIs to begin with? Is it not something they can disable to avoid this problem in the future? I mean the reality is that you do not need the SDK to leverage the APIs. If you are an app developer you could write code to leverage them directly. How is Apple monitoring for this?
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Related Stories

studio buds family

Beats Studio Buds Debuting Today With Active Noise Cancellation, Stemless Design, and More for $150

Monday June 14, 2021 8:00 am PDT by
We've seen a lot of teasers about the Beats Studio Buds over the past month since they first showed up in Apple's beta software updates, and today they're finally official. The Beats Studio Buds are available to order today in red, white, and black ahead of a June 24 ship date, and they're priced at $149.99. The Studio Buds are the first Beats-branded earbuds to truly compete with AirPods...
YouTube Picture in Picture Feature

YouTube Premium Subscribers Can Now Use iOS Picture-in-Picture: Here's How

Wednesday August 25, 2021 3:55 am PDT by
Google has rolled out picture-in-picture support as an "experimental" feature for YouTube premium subscribers, allowing them to watch video in a small window when the app is closed. If you're a premium YouTube subscriber looking to try out picture-in-picture, follow these steps: Launch a web browser and sign into your YouTube account at YouTube.com. Navigate to www.youtube.com/new. Scroll...
gradiente iphone white

Brazilian Electronics Company Revives Long-Running iPhone Trademark Dispute

Tuesday May 19, 2020 1:06 pm PDT by
Apple has been involved in a long-running iPhone trademark dispute in Brazil, which was revived today by IGB Electronica, a Brazilian consumer electronics company that originally registered the "iPhone" name in 2000. IGB Electronica fought a multi-year battle with Apple in an attempt to get exclusive rights to the "iPhone" trademark, but ultimately lost, and now the case has been brought to...
youtube apple tv

YouTube Discontinuing 3rd-Generation Apple TV App, AirPlay Still Available

Wednesday February 3, 2021 3:09 pm PST by
YouTube is planning to stop supporting its YouTube app on the third-generation Apple TV models, where YouTube has long been available as a channel option. A 9to5Mac reader received a message about the upcoming app discontinuation, which is set to take place in March.Starting early March, the YouTube app will no longer be available on Apple TV (3rd generation). You can still watch YouTube on...
ryanscoolios13thumbnail

Apple Releases iOS 13.1.3 With Bug Fixes for Phone, Mail, Health, and More

Tuesday October 15, 2019 10:09 am PDT by
Apple today released iOS 13.1.3 and iPadOS 13.1.3, minor updates to the iOS 13.1.2 software that was released two weeks ago. This is the fourth update to the iOS 13 operating system that came out in September. The iOS and iPadOS 13.1.3 updates are available on all eligible devices over-the-air in the Settings app. To access the updates, go to Settings > General > Software Update....
bluetti eb70 main

MacRumors Giveaway: Win a Bluetti EB70 Portable Power Station and 200W Solar Panel

Friday September 3, 2021 11:13 am PDT by
For this week's giveaway, we've teamed up with MAXOAK to offer MacRumors readers a chance to win a Bluetti portable power station and an accompanying solar panel. Bluetti makes a range of portable power station options that are useful for camping, emergencies, power outages, off-grid living, and similar situations. The Bluetti EB70 is a solid middle of the road option that offers 716Wh and...
M1X MBP Feature

Leaker: Upcoming MacBook Pro to See Price Hike Over Current Model, Equal Performance Across 14 and 16-Inch Sizes

Tuesday August 24, 2021 5:28 am PDT by
The upcoming 14-inch MacBook Pro is set to be more expensive than the current 13-inch MacBook Pro and both the 14 and 16-inch models will offer the same performance, according to the leaker known as "Dylandkt." The leaker shared the information on Twitter, explaining that both of the upcoming MacBook Pro models, expected to come in 14 and 16-inch sizes, will feature the same performance due...
iphone 13 teal with text

Apple Expecting iPhone and iPad Supply Constraints in September Quarter

Tuesday July 27, 2021 2:34 pm PDT by
During today's earnings call covering the third fiscal quarter of 2021 (second calendar quarter), Apple CFO Luca Maesteri said that Apple is expecting supply constraints to affect the iPhone and the iPad in the coming quarter. "The supply constraints that we've seen in the June quarter will be higher in the September quarter," said Maestri. The constraints will impact iPhone and iPad sales...
os x mountain lion macs 16x9 2

Apple Makes OS X Lion and Mountain Lion Free to Download

Wednesday June 30, 2021 12:19 pm PDT by
Apple recently dropped the $19.99 fee for OS X Lion and Mountain Lion, making the older Mac updates free to download, reports Macworld. Apple has kept OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion available for customers who have machines limited to the older software, but until recently, Apple was charging $19.99 to get download codes for the updates. As of last week, these updates no...
maxresdefault

Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak Discuss iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, Privacy, Shortcuts on Mac, and More

Saturday June 12, 2021 6:12 am PDT by
As is tradition, Apple executives Craig Federighi and Greg Joswiak joined Daring Fireball's John Gruber in an episode of The Talk Show to discuss several announcements that Apple made over this weeks WWDC, including iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and a large focus around privacy. Federighi kicks off the conversation discussing the common architecture, now thanks to Apple silicon, across all of...