Facebook's Onavo VPN Collects Personally Identifying Information

Smartphone apps

Facebook's Onavo VPN Collects Personally Identifying Information

The feature sports a blue shield icon, and tapping it redirects you to the App Store listing for Facebook-owned VPN app Onavo Protect. Plus, Facebook linked to the Onavo Protect app in the United Kingdom version of the Facebook app (on both iOS and Android) starting in 2016, though there was little reporting on that fact then. It's this lack of clarity that has privacy advocates in a spin.

Onavo on its privacy policy page confirms that it collects the "information about your mobile applications and data usage, including the applications installed on your device, your use of those applications, the websites you visit, and the amount of data you use".

"This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps, and data", Onava writes about the app. But, as the app suggests in its description, Facebook didn't acquire Onavo in 2013 so it could innocently protect you from bad actors-it also reportedly sends a steady stream of your personal app browsing habits back to Facebook.

In reality, though, these statements aren't any different from the sort of information any other VPN would take from you.

What Onavo does instead is the exact opposite, a violation of your anonymity.

Initially, the app description seems reasonable enough - it's pretty much what you would expect from a VPN.

And, who's to say the data Facebook collects will not be subpoenaed or requested by law enforcement?

Since the VPN tracks users, Facebook can get a jump start on what services are becoming breakout hits so it can either steal their features or buy them out.

In case you ever doubted Facebook's commitment to hoovering up as much information about you as it can, the company has come under fire for a change in the Facebook app for iOS in the United States. The Onavo VPN "acts as a secure connection to protect people from potentially harmful sites", product manager Erez Naveh says. If you're looking for the privacy benefits of a VPN, this is not what you want to hear. Majority of the reviews lauded the new product while others blasted Facebook for another product that allegedly spies users.

'We let people know about this activity and other ways that Onavo uses and analyses data before they download it'.

Many VPNs are paid services - the popular AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, for instance, charges $13 a month, or $120 a year. It's another thing when the company in question is part of Facebook, and that data can be combined with both any data you've allowed Facebook to have and any data about you that people you know have inadvertently provided to Facebook.

It further mentions that Facebook also uses this data to "improve" its products and services.

The problem, though, is that while Facebook promotes Onavo to its massive user base as a tool for protection, it provides significantly less emphasis on the service's intrusive features.

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