Don't Use Facebook's Onavo VPN: It's Designed to Spy On You

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As spotted by the folks over at TechCrunch, Onavo Protect VPN client, which was acquired by Facebook back in 2013, is now available within the Facebook iOS app, and can be found under the banner "Protect" in the app's navigation menu. Improving Facebook's products and services is all well and good, but until and unless you go to the Onavo website or read the App Store description all the way down to the bottom, you don't even know that the app is doing it.

We recently began letting people in the USA access Onavo Protect from the Facebook app on their iOS devices.

Onavo, on the other hand, expressly combs through, analyzes, and tracks user data over time, feeding it directly to Facebook.

Onavo Protect was purchased by Facebook in 2013, for the express goal of...you guessed it: mining your data. While this app is now being pushed via Facebook iOS app, it's also available on Android Play Store. There's an Android variant called Protect Free VPN+Data Manager, which seems to offer the same usage stats and VPN protections, albeit with a different UX design.


What Onavo does instead is the exact opposite, a violation of your anonymity. But of course, by using the Onavo VPN, you're providing your browsing data to Facebook, so beware. Like all VPNs, it's a private platform that acts as a portal to connect you to the larger internet, tunneling your data through an encrypted path to reduce the risk of eavesdropping.

There are several advantages of using a VPN, but the most important of them all might be the ability to give someone a degree of anonymity. However, the app description on the App Store confirms that alongside establishing a "secure connection to direct all your network communications through Onavo's servers", the app does help Facebook improve its products and services using the mobile data traffic it collects from its users. The app may collect your mobile data traffic to help us recognize tactics that bad actors use. Because Facebook owns Onavo, Facebook gets access to that data. Over time, this helps the tool work better for you and others. Majority of the reviews lauded the new product while others blasted Facebook for another product that allegedly spies users.

However, critics say that Facebook isn't clear enough about its affiliation with Onavo, implying that users might never know that the company uses the data from the app for such purposes. Many corporations ask their employees to use VPNs when they are working remotely.

"Unlike other providers, Onavo Protect tries to keep the VPN connected all the time, and channel all internet traffic", says Ankur Banerjee, a technology architecture delivery team lead at the management consulting firm Accenture. This includes info about: your device and its location, apps installed on your device and how often you use those apps, the websites you visit, and the amount of data you use.

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