Is Facebook-owned ‘Onavo Protect’ app, a spyware?

Facebook who is no stranger to privacy-related controversy has adopted a novel way to collect and track its users’ data that gives information about their online habits.

Apparently, Facebook is pushing its users to download and install a Facebook-owned VPN client called “Onavo Protect” on their devices under the pretext of protecting their account. VPN (short for virtual private network) is used to safeguard users’ online privacy and keep their IP address anonymous particularly when using public Wi-Fi networks by creating a secure connection to another network over the Internet. However, Onavo Protect is just doing exactly the opposite. In fact, the VPN client is tracking users’ apps, how often they are used and what websites users visit and is sending these information back to Facebook.

However, this VPN client has been added only to the iOS platform of mobile app and not the Android app, according to TechCrunch, who were the first to spot the new “Protect” option under the “Apps” section on the Facebook mobile iOS app. On clicking this option, the user will be directed to Apple’s App Store and pushed to download Onavo Protect VPN.

In a statement to TechCrunch, Facebook has confirmed that it had recently started rolling out the Onavo Protect app access directly from its iOS app. “We recently began letting people in the US access Onavo Protect from the Facebook app on their iOS devices. Like other VPNs, it acts as a secure connection to protect people from potentially harmful sites. The app may collect your mobile data traffic to help us recognise tactics that bad actors use. Over time, this helps the tool work better for you and others. We let people know about this activity and other ways that Onavo uses and analyses data before they download it,” said Erez Naveh, Product Manager at Onavo in the statement.



It is unclear how Facebook is planning to influence the user data it will collect through the Onavo Protect app. While the app claims to ‘keep your data safe’ and add an extra layer of protection to your mobile traffic by routing it through their servers, the description of the app throws light on how the service work.

It 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.”

While many have called the Onavo Protect app as a spyware, others who are unaware might never know that Facebook uses the data from the app for marketing purposes. However, the good news is that the app is not activated by default and requires you to navigate to the Protect tab in the app’s settings, and then install the app yourself. Those users who are unsure about the app, should refrain from installing it.

Source: NDTV, Neowin

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