As spotted by the folks over at TechCrunch, Onavo Protect VPN client, which was acquired by Facebook back in 2013, is now available within the Facebook iOS app, and can be found under the banner "Protect" in the app's navigation menu.
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.
The issue: When you download Onavo, you give the app permission to share data about what you do on your phone with Facebook: "Because we're part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences", the description in Apple's App Store says. It is indeed a VPN - a virtual private network - that securely tunnels all your traffic through Onavo's servers.
And like many VPN services, Onavo collects and analyses mobile data traffic to operate and improve its service; nothing too unusual there for anyone who's not a total privacy freak.
We recently began letting people in the USA access Onavo Protect from the Facebook app on their iOS devices. 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.
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It is unclear how Facebook is planning to influence the user data it will collect through the Onavo Protect app. Whether you are using the Facebook app, a web browser, your Global Positioning System, or any other program; if there is data to be collected from it, Onavo will have access to it. 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. But Facebook can see a lot-if that app doesn't encrypt its own traffic, in fact, they can see almost everything you do in that app. Users are being encouraged to download it from the App Store. The Onava app does indeed meet the definition of a VPN, but the trojan horse of the story is that all the data running through the app is being used by Facebook to monitor every single thing a user does. The company earlier made it easier to launch Instagram through a new Facebook feature, and it has tested and rolled out various WhatsApp integrations, too.
We've reached out to Facebook for more clarity on the Onavo Protect app access and will update this space accordingly.
'Like other VPNs, it acts as a secure connection to protect people from potentially harmful sites.
In reality, though, these statements aren't any different from the sort of information any other VPN would take from you.