Privacy advocates are in a spin over Facebook’s Onavo Protect VPN tracking your data – but what did they expect?
A new Facebook-owned mobile VPN has been released and it’s got some corners of the internet in a spin.
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.
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For those who don’t go via Facebook’s own app and instead happen upon Onavo Protect in the App Store, it’s less clear that this is a Facebook-owned app. It’s this lack of clarity that has privacy advocates in a spin.
Onavo does clearly state Protect is owned by Facebook, and that it shares information with the company but, per Apple App Store’s design, the information is found under the expanded “description” tab. Because Facebook owns Onavo, and the two share data, it means Facebook has access to information about what apps and services you’re running while the VPN is activated.
In particular, the app states that it shares information with Facebook and others, “including the applications installed on your device, your use of those applications, the websites you visit and the amount of data you use.”
In practice, this means Facebook could understand how you use Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, YouTube or – if it cared – the Uber rides you took. Such data is attractive information for Facebook, hence why it bought the Israeli security company behind Onavo Protect in 2013.
In reality, though, these statements aren’t any different from the sort of information any other VPN would take from you. Certain, paid-for, VPNs won’t track a single thing you do, but Onavo Protect is free. If you want to use a powerful VPN service for free, you have to expect the company to make money in some regard, and that happens to be your data for Facebook’s uses.
It seems that much of the outcry is that Facebook is the one benefiting from your information, rather than the information it’s recording. It’s worth noting that, a free VPN like Hola, was doing far more nefarious things with your information than Facebook would ever do – yet nobody questioned it until the extent of what it was doing with your harvested data and IP addresses became clear. If I didn’t fancy paying to be protected online, I’d much rather Facebook had my data than a company I didn’t know.
If you’d like to be protected online, and don’t fancy sharing your data with a random company or with Facebook, you should take a look at our pick of the best VPNs. These, primarily, paid-for options will keep you safe online, and don’t compromise on your privacy.
In the age of an always-connected digital society, some things definitely are worth paying for.