Facebook is no stranger to privacy and user security issues, and new court documents reveal the company was trying to gets its hands on a spying tool to track specific users.

Remember Onavo Protect? Facebook billed it as a virtual private network app, but it was discovered to improperly collect user data, essentially putting it on the same level as general spyware. Apple eventually forced Facebook to pull the app from the App Store back in 2018, which was not a surprise to anyone when it happened.

But it turns out that, around the same time that Facebook was initially building this spyware-cloaked-as-a-VPN, it was also reaching out to the NSO Group in an effort to obtain the group’s own spyware efforts. The NSO Group is known for creating spyware for government agencies, and apparently Facebook’s intent was to essentially spy on iPhone and iPad users, according to a report from Motherboard based on recently discovered court documentation.

The NSO Group’s CEO, Shalev Hulio, declared that, in October of 2017, a pair of Facebook executives “approached NSO” and asked to “purchase the right to user certain capabilities of Pegasus”. Pegasus being the overall tool that Facebook hoped, at least in part, could help it spy on some Apple-branded devices.

Facebook’s attention on Apple devices like the iPhone and iPad was due to the fact that Apple’s software and hardware is far more difficult to compromise than the primary competition in Google’s Android operating system.

Per the report:

The Facebook representatives stated that Facebook was concerned that its method for gathering user data through Onavo Protect was less effective on Apple devices than on Android devices,” the court filing reads. “The Facebook representatives also stated that Facebook wanted to use purported capabilities of Pegasus to monitor users on Apple devices and were willing to pay for the ability to monitor Onavo Protect users.

For what it’s worth, the NSO Group refused to give Facebook any access to Pegasus. That did not stop Facebook from launching Onavo VPN, however. And after Apple forced Facebook to pull it, the social network repackaged the whole thing and relaunched it as “Facebook Research”, trying to get teens to sideload the app onto their devices by paying them to do so (and allow Facebook to collect their data, too).

Facebook shut down the Research app, and even pulled Onavo VPN from Android devices, in early 2019.

So while Facebook wasn’t able to actually obtain the “Apple spying tool” it wanted, it’s certainly worth knowing that it tried to get it. Specifically to spy on iPhone and iPad users.

What do you make of this? Will this change your opinion about Facebook in general? Let us know in the comments below.