June 25, 2018

Facebook Aims To Become World's Biggest VPN Provider

15 February 2018, 05:45 | Kevin Scott

Facebook Aims To Become World's Biggest VPN Provider

Facebook Aims To Become World's Biggest VPN Provider

Called "Protect", the feature redirects to a listing page that encourages users to download a smartphone app that sets up a virtual private network (VPN) and helps save mobile data.

With a name that is likely to lure users into a false sense of security, the new Protect feature is touted as "an added layer of security", but it is in fact a VPN service created to route your web browsing through its servers to collect and analyse user data. If you read all the way to the end, you'd learn that Onavo Protect "directs all of your network communications through Onavo's servers", and that, "as part of this process, Onavo collects your mobile data traffic".

On top of that, Onavo Protect also offers an extra layer of protection whenever users connect to a public WiFi or use their mobile data. On the app store, Onavo's description reveals it is "a part of Facebook", and that it can be used to "improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and service people value, and build better experiences" - similar to the policy Facebook has in place for its other platforms.

It's also important to note that Facebook's Protect tab now only seems to be available for iOS users, as the Android devices running Facebook at MobileSyrup's offices did not carry the feature. In fact, the VPN client is tracking users' apps, how often they are used and what websites users visit and is sending these information back to Facebook.

VPNs work by forcing your laptop or mobile device to establish a connection to a third-party server before then connecting you to any websites or online services.

Marketing Onavo within Facebook itself could lead to a boost in users for the VPN app, which promises to warn users of malicious websites and keep information secure - like bank account and credit card numbers - as you browse.

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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.

The Onavo app has been available for some time, but Facebook is now actively promoting it as a "normal" app, the Consumentenbond said.

See, Facebook can track a lot of what you do on the web, but it can't track what you do in other apps on your phone. The source however notes that this is not the first time Onavo's Protect has shown up in Facebook's app, as it has been spotted before as well in the United Kingdom back in 2016.

It is worth noting that Facebook purchased Onavo from an Israel-based company in 2013.

"When you use our VPN, we collect all the info that is sent to, and received from, your mobile device". Those users who are unsure about the app, should refrain from installing it.

Surprisingly, Facebook is quite opaque about the application that it is encouraging users to download.

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