Security

Beware of Facebook's new VPN, it could collect even more of your personal data

Through a feature called Protect in Facebook's iOS, the firm is pushing its Onavo Protect client that collects user data.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Facebook users on iOS are being prompted to download the Onavo Protect VPN client, which collects user data across apps.
  • Privacy-conscious mobile users should consider disabling Facebook Protect to limit the amount of their data that is collected.

Through a feature called Protect on its mobile app, Facebook is encouraging users to download the Onavo Protect VPN Client that collects additional user data, according to a TechCrunch report.

Facebook bought Onavo years ago, and is now pushing its VPN app through the social media giant's mobile app on both Android and iOS, the report said. If a user were to tap on the Protect page in the navigation menu, they would be redirected to the respective app store where they could then download the VPN app.

The problem with this, according to the report, is that Onavo collects data on what apps users are using and how much they are using them. This helps Facebook spot emerging trends to hedge its M&A bets, the report said, but could be a problem for privacy-conscious users.

SEE: Information security policy (Tech Pro Research)

According to the report, data from Onavo has already helped Facebook get ahead of a trend with one acquisition (tbh, an anonymous app for teens) and further determine how its Instagram app was competing with Snapchat. And it doesn't try to hide this fact, either.

Since it's a VPN, Onavo directs a user's network communications through its own servers. As part of this process, it collects a user's mobile data traffic as well, according to its App Store page.

"This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps and data," the page said. "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."

Some tens of millions of people have already installed the Onavo app, the report said, and many might not know exactly what information it collects. Privacy-conscious professionals, especially those that work from their phone or may have a competitive product to Facebook, should seriously consider ditching the app and finding a new VPN client.

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Image: iStockphoto/coffeekai

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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