Facebook has introduced the ‘Onavo Protect’ VPN feature in its iOS app. It is corporate spying at its worst that masquerades as a free VPN (virtual private network).

In fact, ONAVO Protect is owned by Facebook, and yes, it is a free VPN provider – except that instead of keeping no logs of user’s web surfing enabling complete anonymity it apparently enables Facebook to granularly analyse all your surfing habits.

Analysts say that Facebook bought Onavo solely to allow it to monitor user activity across all apps outside Facebook. That gives this information-hungry company a huge advantage over say Google that cannot access VPN traffic – unless it too decides to play an Onavo type ruse.

According to Sensor Tower, the Onavo app so far has over 33 million installs on iOS and Android. Facebook Protect seems to be limited to its iOS version at present.

They also say it gives Facebook an unfair advantage in tracking the use of its competitor’s products like Snapchat.

GadgetGuy’s take – free VPN or spy?

Facebook is in no way a company concerned about your privacy. Its sole purpose is to gain as much information about you to monetise, e.g. sell to its advertisers. Until now its information date-rape was limited to what you confided in it – in your profile but also in what you posted.

Facebook has for some years been using various methods to collect data outside its confines – cookies, device fingerprinting developed for fraud detection (mac address, IP address, processor ID etc.) and Canvas fingerprinting of the HTML 5 canvas element of a web page and more.

Onavo Protect is a chilling advance – data collection on an extreme scale. You should:

  • Stop using the drug of choice – Facebook – and remove every vestige of your existence
  • Never click a third-party social media sharing button (like/dislike )
  • Never use Facebook, Twitter, to sign into other supposedly unconnected sites (single sign-on)
  • Sign out of any browser logins before browsing
  • Pay attention to privacy policies
  • Run AdBlock Plus, Ghostery, DoNotTrackMe, or similar
  • Use in private browsing mode
  • Use a VPN

The Onavo Protect VPN is the ultimate answer for Facebook – not you. Uninstall it and use reputable paid VPNs like Private Internet Access or NordVPN which do not keep logs!

If the term VPN confuses you have a read of The Best VPN Beginners Guide that simplifies the terminology.

By the way – those analysts are not wrong

Look at Onavo’s privacy policy.

While it will not share un-anonymised data with third parties it will with its owner Facebook.

We receive all of your mobile data traffic, including location data, after you download and agree to use our Apps, which direct your mobile data traffic through or to our server. We may also receive personally identifying information such as your name, email address, or other contact information.

When you use the Apps, you choose to route all of your mobile data traffic through, or to, Onavo’s servers. As a result, we receive information regarding you, your online activities, and your device or browser when you use the Services. For example, we may receive:

  • Information about your device, including the type of device, its operating system, the mobile carrier or network, IP address, GPS or other general location information, and device identifiers. When you download the Apps, you may permit us to access data on or about your device, including permissions obtained through our Apps or your device (e.g. Google Play on Android).
  • Information about your mobile applications and data usage, including the applications installed on your device, your use of those applications, the websites you visit, and the amount of data you use.
  • Log information and other data from your device, such as webpage addresses and data fields.
  • We may receive the content of your communications and other mobile data transactions when your mobile data is transferred through our server. We may also receive geo-location information when you access location-based services on a device that uses one of our Apps. For example, if you access an online map application, we may receive location information as part of the mobile data traffic we receive when you use our Apps. While we receive this data as part of the provision of the Services, we do not log or otherwise collect the content of those communications unless we tell you about it in this Privacy Policy or with your permission.
  • Information about you, including personally identifying information, from our Affiliates or third-party partners.

Use of Information

We may use the information we receive to provide, analyze, improve, and develop new and innovative services for users, Affiliates and third parties; to communicate with users; to support advertising and related activities; and to help protect ourselves or someone else. For example, Onavo may use your information to:

  • Provide the Services, such as by compressing data and reducing your mobile data usage, monitoring active apps on your device, and encrypting data traffic;
  • Communicate with you, including about products, services, and events; respond when you communicate with us; and send you information you request or that we think might interest you, such as App updates;
  • Analyze how you use applications and data. For example, we may combine the information, including personally identifying information, that you provide through your use of the Services with information about you we receive from our Affiliates or third parties for business, analytic, advertising, and other purposes;
  • Provide market analytics and other services to Affiliates and other third parties;
  • Maintain, improve or administer our Services; perform business analyses; provide advertising and related activities either independently or in connection with our Affiliates; or otherwise support our internal operations by activities such as troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, and research;