Facebook’s ‘Protect’ feature installs spyware on devices

1984 zuckerberg

A new Facebook security feature that the company pitch as a security app to protect users online is in fact designed to collect and analyze user data to “improve Facebook products and services."

As reported by TechCrunch, Facebook purchased the Israeli security software company Onavo in 2013. The Onavo Protect app is now linked into the Facebook app settings under the “Protect” label. It is apparently designed to give users “peace of mind” and “an added layer of security” by routing web browsers through its servers—you know, just in case there were online spies interested in storing user data. Even though that is exactly what this app does for Facebook. Only when users troll through the encyclopedia of terms and conditions can it be seen that the company also analyzes and collects user data to improve its services as well as for the products and services of its parent company—Facebook.

After a paragraph about the protection that Onavo provides and some bullet points on how the service works, the company states that it is essentially spyware, which is buried beneath the read more link on both the iOS App Store and the web.

“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,” the terms state.

Facebook can use that data to track what users do online even when they're not on one of its websites. The company could also find out how apps made by its rivals, such as SnapChat and Twitter, are being used.

While some users may feel okay about trading their privacy for a free VPN client, many users are likely unaware that Onavo Protect is specialized spyware for Facebook, and may feel misled by the marketing of the app in Facebook’s settings and on the App Store.

TechCrunch reports that there are an estimated 33 million users who have Onavo Protect installed, with 38 percent being on iOS and the remaining 62 percent on Android.