Facebook wants to be bigger than Big Brother with the Onavo VPN

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 Clouded under the controversy that Facebook spies on its own employees (opens in new tab), the platform is now embroiled in another fiasco where the Onavo Virtual Private Network (opens in new tab) (VPN) is being described as ‘corporate spyware (opens in new tab).’ 

Zuckerberg has always been known to be determined, even ruthless, but has he gone a step too far this time?

A data-security app that was acquired back in 2013 by Facebook has now been integrated in to the Facebook app itself. It innocently portrays a ‘Protect’ banner in the navigation menu which redirects you to the Apple App Store so that you can download the ‘Onavo Protect - VPN Security (opens in new tab)’ app. Sounds amazingly convenient, doesn’t it? 


Take a second look, maybe?

Onavo itself is actually owned by Facebook and that the information that it collects is for the social networking company. Improving Facebook’s products and services is all well and good, but until and unless you go to the Onavo website or read the App Store description all the way down to the bottom, you don’t even know that the app is doing it.

Gizmodo (opens in new tab)even goes so far as to say, “Facebook is already vacuuming up enough of your data without you giving them permission to monitor every website that you visit.”

Why is this infuriating?

Marketing Onavo through the Facebook app leads to a direct boost in users for the VPN. With the promise of warning users when they’re about to step in to a malicious website and keeping their information safe, why would people not sign up?

The issue isn’t so much that Facebook is engaging in such behaviour but the fact that this behaviour makes the point of using a VPN service in the first place completely null and void.

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. The practical application is that you can jump from website to website with your IP address masked so that no locational data is given away. 

The end goal? To be as anonymous as possible. 


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This is why most people who use a VPN do so - hide from censors, so that their country of origin is warped to bypass privacy laws.

What Onavo does instead is the exact opposite, a violation of your anonymity. The data it collects allows Facebook to monitor user activity across the applications installed on your phone. 

Why does Facebook want this information? 

Because information always translates to power. All of the data from your phone gives Facebook a huge advantage in terms of spotting trends - when apps are turning to breakout hits, which apps are slowing down and even which updates work for any app resulting in increased usage.

This is precisely how Facebook knew that the launch of Stories on Instagram was doing its job of slowing down (opens in new tab) Snapchat’s user growth and why Facebook snatched up tbh, the positivity-focused polling startup, before it even took off.

Facebook sees all.


Onavo has over 33 million installs between the Apple App Store (opens in new tab) and the Google Play Store (opens in new tab). Of that total, 62% of the users are on Google Play which is probably why Facebook gave Onavo a push on the iOS platform. Most of its users are either in the United States, India or Brazil. Those are three of the most populous countries in the world. 

This isn’t even the first time that Onavo has shown up in the Facebook app. Apparently in 2016, users in the UK were exposed to the VPN.

Point is, Onavo is hardly a VPN. There are literally a thousand other apps to choose from, both free and paid. 

It’s always something new with Facebook and it is not a noob to controversies. Over the past two years, its has been tumbling through one turmoil after another, drawing ample criticism at every stage. 

Reflecting the image of its creator, Facebook seems to be morphing into something just as relentless and barbarous - doing whatever it takes to stay on top.

The choice, at the end of the day, is in your hands. Do you want to be a part of the problem, not caring whether or not Facebook is scanning your data? Or install a different VPN so that you can truly be anonymous?

Choose wisely. 

Prabhjote Gill is the Senior Journalist at Business Insider India. She covering everything space, tech and defence at Business Insider India. She is also in-charge of allocating stories to junior writers.