Facebook users in the United States, and possibly elsewhere, are starting to see, or have been seeing for some time now a new Protect option in Facebook for iOS’s navigation menu, which redirects users to the Onavo VPN app on App Store.
A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch:
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.
Why is this seemingly inconspicuous link attracting attention from the press, especially since it’s not exactly a secret that Facebook acquired Onavo back in 2013?
The short answer is: data tracking.
The long answers is: because Facebook cannot be trusted.
Facebook is known for lax approach to user privacy. Up until now, they were able to collect rich information from users only when they were using one of its apps. With Onavo, Facebook is able to track you everywhere you go on the Internet, which is why this app is free.
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Onavo does strengthen your security by encrypting your traffic.
It also gives you a warning when you visit potentially malicious or harmful websites and keeps your details secure when you log in to websites or enter personal information such as bank accounts and credit card numbers.
But that doesn’t change the fact that installing this VPN on your device will route all traffic through Facebook’s servers, meaning they’ll be able to track you anywhere on the web even when you’re not using Facebook apps.
From the app’s description (emphasis mine):
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.
Use it at your own risk!