We got the surprise of the week earlier today when we were testing one of the newer Unity-based apps for iOS. We have assumed for a long time that Apple, Inc. was controlling all aspects of the iOS infrastructure. That means all hardware, software, interfaces, advertising, and any other aspect of iOS device life with more than a billion iOS devices.
Our assumptions though seemingly hit a major roadblock this week when we discovered that third parties were not only the ones in control of the apps, but also the ads that get served. This came about due to the app that we were testing began showing severe anomalies to what is the normally accepted behavior of an app.
We were testing an app called Galaxy Attack:Space Shooter version 1.4 by Dao Vu Duc Minh, which serves advertisements as part of the gameplay and at the end of each level. The app was updated in November and the game itself has a reasonable level of approval with the iOS community at large.
We discovered that the advertisements being served as part of the game are not coming from Apple themselves, but instead from Unity. Yes, that Unity. The one that makes the popular 3D game engines. What we discovered is that Unity is using embedded videos in the ad and that the physical video is what is actually bypassing the sound controls on the iPhone.
While the advertisements are pretty much the same as with other apps, one has no choice but to view them to continue using the app. They are basically forced upon the user without concern for type or value to the user. One can imagine being that three hour long meeting, playing in the back row of the room and suddenly all eyes are on you. Sound far-fetched? It wont be if you play any of the games that have this type of advertising in their repertoire.
This type of behavior, while somewhat accepted these days by users, is according to what we can find, against the Apple Development Guidelines section 3.2.2 (Sub section iii)
This perspective of forced ads is not unheard of with free apps on iOS, however, with nearly every free app having some forced advertising. This aspect is fine in some respect compared to being forced to listen to the sound of the ad. This is exactly what is now happening via the Unity ads.
When the advertisement begins, the sound starts playing full volume for another app called Tik Tok. The device’s mute button was enabled, so this was a surprise.
While forcing advertisements is, as show in Section 2.5.9 of the Apple Developer requirements, against Apple policy with iOS apps according to their development requirements, attempting to or actually circumventing the built-in user device controls are absolutely against the same requirements.
Unity has even gone so far as to embed their own sound control into the advertisement that was being served. This alone shows that they are absolutely aware that they are circumventing the standard device controls. And if they can circumvent the mute switch, then what else can they circumvent?
Have we gotten to the point with iOS apps where the security of the device and a user’s settings are no longer being respected, and is this a common occurrence? Considering the size of the companies involved, I would say not.
Most of all, what surprises us the most is the fact that Apple, Inc. has not rejected advertisers who abuse the system like this. Apple for the past 11 years has rejected all kinds of apps and advertisers for even the smallest of infractions or anomalies. Why now have they begun allowing these types of practices without so much of a whimper from them.
We have reached out to both Unity and to Apple, Inc. for comment on this issue, but at press time had yet to have received a reply from either one.