Facebook promotes a VPN under the Onavo brand that collects even more data on you

By Cal Jeffrey · 7 replies
Feb 13, 2018
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  1. In case you haven’t noticed, the Facebook mobile app now has an option in its menu called "Protect." When you tap this function, you are redirected to the app store where you can download "Onavo Protect - VPN Security" put out by Onavo, Inc.

    If you are a long-time reader of TechSpot, you may have caught our report of Facebook’s acquisition of Onavo way back in 2013. The fact that Facebook owns Onavo is not readily apparent to those who might be thinking the app is an independent privacy tool unless you read its full description. Those who already know what a VPN is might not bother with the blurb and trust Onavo as an impartial entity.

    Why does Onavo’s ownership matter? It matters because it is widely held that Facebook’s primary policy regarding your privacy is that you can exclude anyone from gathering your information except (well, aside from Facebook). Therefore, knowing that Facebook has a stake in the application might raise a red flag for many people.

    To those people, it might not come as a surprise that the Onavo app, in addition to providing your mobile phone with a VPN, also collects data from the device and sends it to a central server for analysis.

    This data collection and Facebook's ownership of the company are disclosed in a "how it works" section at the bottom of the app’s description. The very last paragraph reads:

    "Onavo uses a VPN to establish a secure connection to direct all of your network communications through Onavo’s servers. As part of this process, Onavo collects your mobile data traffic. This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps and data. Because we're part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences."

    Notice how it is collecting "your use of websites, apps, and data." This is a very generic description that could literally mean anything on your phone including your location. It also appears to be saying it monitors activity across applications. So essentially the app could be tracking you in almost every conceivable way. Whether you are using the Facebook app, a web browser, your GPS, or any other program; if there is data to be collected from it, Onavo will have access to it.

    Facebook is not being entirely shady as far as transparency is concerned since it does list these matters in the description. However, placing the information at the bottom of a product blurb that most people are going to skip reading is certainly an effective strategy to get an invasive tool onto people’s phones. The fact that a VPN app is collecting your data is already counter-intuitive enough without the tucked away effort at transparency.

    Facebook has not issued a statement or comment regarding this new "feature," but as the story has been picked up by most major news outlets including CNBC, it is likely that Zuckerberg and team will address users’ concerns before long.

    Permalink to story.

  2. pawel04

    pawel04 TS Booster Posts: 63   +80

    Haha wow that is terrible, sad thing is 165,000 people have downloaded it...
    psycros likes this.
  3. Theinsanegamer

    Theinsanegamer TS Evangelist Posts: 1,159   +1,188

    Why does anybody trust facebook or anything suckerberg makes?
    JaredTheDragon and psycros like this.
  4. senketsu

    senketsu TS Guru Posts: 620   +392

    The only thing it is protecting is Facebook's revenue stream. It sickens me when they state how they are doing it to help users. VPN's in general (when they aren't scams like this one) are also over-rated as privacy tools IMHO
  5. psycros

    psycros TS Evangelist Posts: 2,132   +1,645

    Because their the products of a public education system that purposely keeps people ignorant of history (or outright lies about it). Even the ones who do have an inkling will usually choose electronic distractions and phony online drama over security and privacy. Welcome to Generation Overexposed.
    JaredTheDragon likes this.
  6. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,724   +3,143

    Quote by Cal Jeffrey : "Facebook has not issued a statement or comment regarding this new "feature," but as the story has been picked up by most major news outlets including CNBC, it is likely that Zuckerberg and team will bullsh!t their way around users’ concerns before long.

    There ya go @Cal Jeffrey , Fixed another one for ya...! (y)
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
    Cal Jeffrey likes this.
  7. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 2,753   +1,320

    This is news? Seriously?

    Anyone having anything to do with fakebook should expect privacy violations - even if they are using a VPN.
  8. Cal Jeffrey

    Cal Jeffrey TS Evangelist Topic Starter Posts: 1,083   +266

    HAHAA! Thanks Cap'n. o7

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