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Facebook’s VPN is Predictably Bad for User Privacy

Users of the Facebook app on Apple’s iPhones may have recently noticed a protect button appear on the app. The protect button on the new Facebook app for iOS asks users to download the Virtual Private Network (VPN) app called Onavo Protect. In 2013, Facebook bought Onavo, a mobile analytics corporation based out of Tel Aviv, Israel, for $200 million. Onavo launched in 2010 thanks to $13 million in funding it got from a group of investors which included Motorola. Since 2016 Facebook has been encouraging users of its app on the Android operating system to install the Onavo Protect VPN app.

As Facebook and Onavo are interested in analytics and tracking, the companies use their apps to track just about everything a user is doing on their device. “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,” the description for the Onavo Protect app reads in the Apple App Store. The description for Onavo’s VPN for the Android operating system is known as Protect Free VPN+Data Manager, and its description in the Google Play Store states, “As part of providing these features, Onavo may collect your mobile data traffic. This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps and data.”

The iOS version of the Onavo Protect VPN app has browsing protection features, which warns users about malicious web sites. It was reported by the Wall Street Journal in August of last year that Facebook was using data obtained from Android Onavo Protect VPN users to determine how popular competitors sites and services were. The Onavo Protect VPN tries to route all traffic through its VPN service and the ability to turn the VPN off is hidden within the app’s settings. Facebook is not the only organization that receives user data from Onavo, as the user data is also shared with third parties. Onavo makes clear in their privacy policy that user data is logged. The privacy policy also states that Onavo may take user data and “combine the information, including personally identifying information, that you provide through your use of the Services with information about you and we receive from our Affiliates or third parties for business, analytic, advertising, and other purposes; … prevent unlawful activities and misuse of the Services; … and Comply with applicable laws and assist law enforcement when we have a good-faith belief that such cooperation is reasonably necessary or meets the applicable legal standards.”

Facebook is only second to Google in tracking users across websites throughout the internet. The company tracks information on people who aren’t even among the 1.4 billion users of Facebook. While the company pretends to care about privacy, it is essentially using all of the information it collects to help create targeted advertising. In 2014 Facebook unveiled a .onion.rent version of their social network so that users could directly access their account through Tor. The purpose of having a hidden site version of Facebook is to enable users to gain access to the site in places which are blocking access to the clear net version of Facebook. Using the hidden site version of Facebook also enables users to hide the location from where they are logging in from. New accounts cannot be created from the hidden site version of the social network. In April of 2016, Facebook announced that 1 million people had logged into their social network from the Tor hidden site. The hidden site appears to be down as of the writing of this article.

To find a VPN which actually does respect your privacy, and which does not use your private information to help create better targeted advertising like Facebook’s Onavo Protect does, check out DeepDotWeb’s VPN Comparison Chart of the best VPN services and read the article Is Your VPN Legit or Shit.

2 comments

  1. Anyone who would use a VPN endorsed by Facebook needs a good lesson in OPSEC. I’ve had good results with NordVPN,ExpressVPN, and AirVPN. Currently still have the Air and Express subscriptions. I still consider Nord in the top three with Air and Express, but it is kind of slow. All three use tight encryption, no activity logs, and allow Bitcoin purchase. Express even has a onion link to their website. Nord and Express also have offshore jurisdictions in countries with no data retention laws. Air is in EU jurisdiction, however, they’ve never been reported for giving away any user data and they don’t log. I recommend checking out /r/VPN over at reddit. They’re user submitted so there’s a better chance you won’t run into any sites earning affiliate money from VPN companies. Please take my post with a disclaimer also. I do not endorse any of these VPNs but they’re just the ones I’ve had the most success with personally. Next I’ll be trying out IPvanish and Mullvad.

  2. LOL He said OPSEC like a haxor and ExpressVPN!!! LOL

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