Onavo Protect was a Facebook app that offered VPN but collected user data.
If anyone is still using Onavo Protect VPN software, soon, there won’t be any more. After all the controversy about breaking privacy involving the tool, Facebook decided to discontinue it for good: the app was removed from the Google Play Store and will no longer collect data from current users.
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The controversy began a year ago when it became clear that Onavo Protect, a VPN service that Facebook acquired in 2013 for $200 million, collected information related to user habits, such as time spent using other applications, websites visited, types of trafficked data, and so on.
To attract users, Facebook used a tempting argument: have a free VPN (service that camouflages the device’s IP using the address of a server, making the connection appear to originate elsewhere) to keep your information safe.
Free quotes. Data from Onavo Protect would have indicated, for example, that WhatsApp carried twice as many messages as Facebook Messenger. Result? Facebook bought WhatsApp in early 2014. It is also said that thanks to Onavo, the company realized that Snapchat was no longer growing much and, therefore, decided to increase investments in Instagram Stories.
In August 2018, when Onavo Protect had already accumulated 33 million downloads, Facebook decided to remove it from the App Store. Not willingly: At the time, Apple already applied privacy guidelines that allowed it to ban apps that “collect information about which apps are installed on the device for analysis, advertising or marketing purposes”, which is exactly what Onavo did.
Only now, however, is Onavo Protect removed from the Google Play Store. Probably, the app would have remained available for longer if Facebook had not committed another slip: the company used part of the code in Onavo in a tool called Facebook Research that also collected data, both from Android and iPhone users, only in return For money.
Apple didn’t like this at all and, under accusation of violating the rules, revoked Facebook’s corporate certificate, an item necessary for the development of private applications on iOS.
It was a punishment that lasted only a few hours, but it served to fuel yet another controversy involving Facebook. In what appears to be a move to avoid further scandals, the company has decided to put an end to Onavo: the app is no longer available on the Play Store.
With regard to current users, the app no longer collects data. The VPN function will only be maintained for a few days so that users have time to look for a replacement tool.
The company also stopped recruiting users for Facebook Research. This does not mean that data on habits will no longer be collected. Facebook will have to do it by other means, not least because it needs it for market decisions. What is expected is that, from now on, the company will be more transparent with these actions, making it clear to users what data is collected and what it will be used for.
It’s a “pay to see”: considering the history that Facebook carries, it’s hard to believe that the company will even change its posture.