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AdGuard’s digest: Apple embraces RCS, porn ad mocks YouTube, Google’s secret deal and X’s sad tale

In this edition of AdGuard’s Digest: Apple reverses course on Rich Communication Service (RCS), YouTube’s flawed moderation policies are exposed, a super sweet deal between Spotify and Google is revealed, and Elon Musk’s X flushes privacy down the drain.

Apple gives up ground in the ‘bubble war’: RCS is coming to iPhones

In a stunning turnaround, Apple has confirmed that it will offer support for Rich Communication Service (RCS) on iOS starting next year. This is a big deal not only for iPhone users, but more so even for Android users. Currently, messages between Android and iOS — and by messages we mean SMS and MMS — are not end-to-end encrypted. To add insult to injury and make the distinction clear, Apple colors messages exchanged between two iOS devices via Apple’s end-to-end encrypted message service iMessage in blue, while unencrypted messages between iPhones and Androids stay in green bubbles.

This has become known as “bubble war,” and until now Apple was reluctant to give an inch. Just last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook rejected the idea of implementing RCS outright and urged on iPhone owners to buy their Android-owning relatives iPhones instead. Now, Apple is singing a different tune. “We believe RCS Universal Profile will offer a better interoperability experience when compared to SMS or MMS,” Apple said. Still, they pointed out that RCS would remain inferior to iMessage in terms of security: iMessage, Apple said, “will continue to be the best and most secure messaging experience for Apple users.”

Once Apple adds RCH support to iOS, messages between the two operating systems will be end-to-end encrypted, though they will appear in green bubbles as before. RCH will also improve the quality of messages, allowing users to send and receive high-resolution media, chats, and other features. This is a welcome development for all smartphone users, regardless of their OS. When texts are not end-to-end encrypted, it means that anyone who intercepts them can read them. It’s likely that Apple was forced to support RCS due to increasing pressure from EU regulators, but whatever it was, this is good news.

Porn ad sneaks into YouTube videos amid crackdown on ad blockers

YouTube is locked in a perpetual war with ad blockers, and the latest flare-up has been particularly violent: for how to still watch YouTube with an ad blocker on read our guide. YouTube’s position has been that ads are what supports creators and that ad blockers violate its Terms of Service (ToS) by disabling them.

Part of YouTube’s argument is that ads served by the Google-owned platform itself are safe and appropriate. In short, YouTube is supposed to moderate the ads it stuffs your videos with. But that does not always happen. Further evidence of this is a very NSFW ad (watch at your peril!) that was spotted in YouTube videos last week. The ad is for an app called PetMeet, it shows a video of a game stream, but overlaid on the video is a pornographic clip, complete with audio. The X-rated ad slipped through YouTube’s defenses and went viral on Reddit. In response to the uproar, YouTube told Android Authority that it “removed the ad in question and have taken action against the associated account consistent with our policies.”

All indications are that the porn ad was created by pranksters who wanted to test YouTube’s moderation policies. And while the intent may have been mischievous, YouTube still failed the test. The problem of ad moderation or lack thereof is common to all Google-owned services. Over the years, we’ve written about multiple instances when malicious or scammy ads were served through Google’s ad networks. Even the FBI recommended using an ad blocker to avoid bad ads in search.

Spotify pays almost NOTHING in fees to Google as part of secret deal

We have long criticized the review process, as well as the high commission and service fees that both Google Play and Apple App Store subject developers to. Turns out, some apps are having it much easier than others. As part of its testimony in the Epic Games trial, Google admitted that music streaming app Spotify pays almost no service fees as result of a secret (well, not so secret anymore) deal.

Spotify pays Google exactly 0 percent in commissions when users choose Spotify’s own billing service to buy subscriptions, Google revealed. If they use Google’s billing system, Spotify pays Google a 4% commission on those sales — well below the 15% most developers pay. The Verge reported that Google argued in court that the details of the deal should be kept under wraps, and given how outrageous it is, this is not surprising. As part of Google’s user choice billing program, which is currently available in 35 countries, developers can have their service fee reduced by 4% for transactions where users pay with an alternative payment method. But 4% is nowhere near a 11 percentage points discount.

Google justified that deal by citing Spotify’s “unprecedented popularity,” and going as far as to claim that people “will not buy Android phones” unless Spotify works smoothly on them. Well, it’s up to you to judge if this is enough of an excuse. We’re naturally concerned about such clandestine deals, as they create an unfair advantage for some apps over others, and undermine the principles of competition. In general, the lack of transparency and accountability is harmful for the app store market, and we would like to see both Google and Apple disclose their secret deals and to adopt a fair and consistent policy for all apps on their platforms.

X, formerly Twitter, apparently couldn't care less for privacy

X’s owner, Elon Musk, wants to walk away from a privacy settlement that was reached between Twitter and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in May 2022, according to the court documents. The settlement was in response to Twitter illegally targeting ads to users with the information it collected from those users when they enabled two-factor authentication. The US government has currently been investigating X’s compliance with the settlement, Ars Technica reported.

However, a federal judge denied Musk’s request to have the settlement thrown out. Lawyers for the US government wrote, citing a former X employee, that Musk’s overhaul of the company, including mass layoffs and cost-cutting measures, “impaired” its ability to ensure that user contact data was used “for the purpose that the particular data was collected,” casting doubt at X’s compliance with the deal. Separately, X may soon face another FTC investigation into its questionable advertising practices. An ad watchdog, Check My Ads, recently filed a complaint against X for showing unlabeled and sometimes unreported ads in both users’ “For You” and “Following” feeds. For more on X’s latest dubious campaign to make up for lost ad revenue, read our article.

We hate to come off as pessimistic, but Musk’s recent actions with regards to privacy suggest that it is certainly not one of his priorities. Which is, of course, unfortunate, but when your ad revenue is declining at such a dramatic rate, privacy is probably not at the top of your list of concerns. Sad, but predictable.

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