Facebook is no stranger to privacy-related controversies. This popular social media platform with nearly 2 billion users has seen plenty of PR nightmares, crises, and criticism in its history. Adding freshly to the list, Facebook has adopted a novel way to collect and track its users’ data that gives information about their online habits.
Yes, that’s right. Apparently, Facebook has silently added an option to its iOS app that pushes its users to download and install a Facebook-owned VPN client called “Onavo Protect” on their devices under the pretext of protecting their account. Clicking through on “Protect” in the Facebook iOS app settings, will redirect Facebook users to the “Onavo Protect – VPN Security” app’s listing in the App Store.
VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a piece of software that is used to safeguard users’ online privacy and keep their IP address anonymous particularly when using public Wi-Fi networks. However, Onavo Protect is just doing exactly the opposite. In fact, this VPN client which is designed to collect and analyze user data to “improve Facebook products and services” is tracking users’ apps, how often they are used and what websites users visit and is sending this information back to Facebook.
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, the description of the app throws light on how the service work.
It reads, “To provide this layer of protection, 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.”
It is also unclear about what percentage of Facebook’s iOS user base is seeing the option, but the company has confirmed in a statement to TechCrunch that this feature is available to iOS users in the U.S.
“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 recognize 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.”
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