Facebook and privacy are not words that really belong in the same sentence, so the idea that the social network is offering a VPN tool might well raise your suspicions. Back in 2013, Facebook acquired Onavo, the company behind the VPN tool Protect.
Recently, users of the Facebook iOS app noticed a link to something labelled Protect within settings. While this appears to be a built-in setting, it is in fact just a link to the Onavo Protect VPN app -- and the idea of a Facebook-owned VPN tool being promoted from within the Facebook app has people concerned. Take a look at the app description, and you may well understand why.
Initially, the app description seems reasonable enough -- it's pretty much what you would expect from a VPN. "Onavo Protect helps keep you and your data safe when you browse and share information on the web. This powerful app helps keep you safe by understanding when you visit potentially malicious or harmful websites and giving you a warning. It also helps keep your details secure when you login to websites or enter personal information such as bank accounts and credit card numbers."
So what does it do? The description goes on:
Onavo Protect works to:
- Warn you when you visit potentially malicious or harmful sites
- Help secure your personal information when you're on public Wi-Fi
- Add an extra layer of protection to all of your mobile data traffic by using our VPN
And how does it work? Well… as you asked:
How it works
To provide this layer of protection, 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.
Let's just run through that last sentence again:
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.
Yeah... I think I'll give that a miss, thanks. It sounds a little too much like spyware for my liking.
Onavo issued a statement to TechCrunch about the tool, saying:
We recently began letting people in the U.S. 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.