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Sensor Tower used VPN, ad-blocking apps to secretly grab user data, report says

The analytics firm says it's taking steps to make its connection to the apps "perfectly clear."

BuzzFeed News says it connected a handful of apps in the Google Play store to Sensor Tower, including Luna VPN.
Screenshot by CNET

Sensor Tower has reportedly been collecting data from millions of people who've installed popular VPN and ad-blocking apps for iOS and Android. These apps don't disclose their connection to the analytics firm or that they feed user data to Sensor Tower's products, according to an investigation by BuzzFeed News published Tuesday. 

Since 2015, Sensor Tower has also owned at least 20 apps that track user data, according to BuzzFeed News. Though many of these apps are no longer available, BuzzFeed News said it recently connected 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 these apps -- Adblock Focus and Luna VPN -- were also available in Apple's App Store.

Sensor Tower offers "market intelligence and insights" related to mobile apps, for investors, developers and other people interested in data on things like usage trends and app revenue. The company says its business is based on reporting high-level, macro trends, and that it doesn't collect or store any personally identifiable information. 

"Our privacy policy follows best practices and makes our data use clear," said Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights for Sensor Tower, in an emailed statement Tuesday. 

Nelson added that when installing apps, users are shown an "unambiguous disclaimer" that details what info is shared, but he said that based on feedback, the company is taking "immediate steps" to make Sensor Tower's connection to the apps more clear. 

Google is investigating the apps. Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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