Facebook's Protect security feature is essentially Spyware


The VPN, Onavo Protect, is offered to Facebook users on iOS simply as "Protect" under the "Apps" section on the Facebook mobile app. Clicking it takes you through to the app on Apple's App Store and, to most users with a modicum of sense, it appears to be a Facebook-endorsed app in the same vein as Instagram or WhatsApp.

"We recently began letting people in the USA access Onavo Protect from the Facebook app on their iOS devices", Erez Naveh, Product Manager at Onavo, explained the situation in an email.

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

Onavo Protect is a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

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. I'd recommend you never click it. Facebook is already vacuuming up enough your data without you giving them permission to monitor every website you visit. 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. The fact that Facebook owns Onavo is not readily apparent to those who might be thinking the app is an independent privacy tool unless you read its full description.

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A VPN is supposed to prevent your broadband or wireless provider from tracking you across the world wide net so that you can browse in peace. And while the initial excuse for this is to optimise the VPN service, the company also says it'll be using the information to "improve Facebook products". Over time, this helps the tool work better for you and others.

Now the good news is that users don't have to install Onavo on their phones if they don't want to. "We let people know about this activity and other ways that Onavo uses and analyses data before they download it", said Erez Naveh, Product Manager at Onavo in the statement.

Many VPNs are paid services - the popular AnchorFree Hotspot Shield, for instance, charges $13 a month, or $120 a year.

Onavo Protect, bought by the social networking company back in 2013, is being promoted to users of the iOS version of its app.

Despite its recent appearance in the iOS Facebook app, Onavo Protect isn't new, and was a source of controversy past year when the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook used Onavo-sourced data to determine that usage of the competing Snapchat app was slowing months before Snap announced that fact. Because Facebook owns Onavo, Facebook gets access to that data. Not only will it be a useful advertising strategy, its promise to warn users of malicious websites while ensuring the security of their information could boost its number of users.