Beware "Protect" In Facebook's iOS App

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Marketing Onavo within Facebook could also lead to a boost in users for the VPN app, although the company didn't acquire Onavo merely for its security protections.

The VPN is owned by Facebook, and sends information about your app usage habits to the company. This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analysing your use of websites, apps and data.

'Like other VPNs, it acts as a secure connection to protect people from potentially harmful sites. It can help you access your home or work network while traveling. It was also data from Onavo that reportedly inspired Facebook to launch a group video chat feature to its Messenger app - styming a smaller app called Houseparty, which provided a very similar feature. The app may collect your mobile data traffic to help us recognise tactics that bad actors use.

Onavo's app store description explains that it's "a part of Facebook", and that it's used to "improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and service people value, and build better experiences".

Onavo, on the other hand, expressly combs through, analyzes, and tracks user data over time, feeding it directly to Facebook.

"We. hope to play a critical role in reaching one of Internet.org's most significant goals - using data more efficiently, so that more people around the world can connect and share", Onavo co-founders Guy Rosen and Roi Tiger said at the time. If you're using Onavo, and you spend two hours on Twitter a day, Facebook can see that.

Image Screen captures by Anthony Caruana from iOS 11
Image Screen captures by Anthony Caruana from iOS 11

The option is now found only in the iOS version of Facebook app, which suggests that the feature is more of a test than a full rollout.

For that reason alone, recommending a good VPN service can be tricky. 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). It also appears to be saying it monitors activity across applications.

It reads, "Onavo uses a VPN to establish a secure connection to direct all of your network communications through Onavo's servers".

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

Facebook's introduction of a new VPN app sends online privacy-conscious users chills.

Many VPNs are paid services - the popular AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, for instance, charges $13 a month, or $120 a year. "They could spin this as saying they're trying to keep the customer protected all the time, but the obvious thing they are perhaps trying to do here is ensure that the user forgets Onavo even exists". This includes info about: your device and its location, apps installed on your device and how often you use those apps, the websites you visit, and the amount of data you use.

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