Facebook's 'Free' VPN Is Basically Spyware

Image: iStock

A few years ago, Facebook acquired a VPN app from security software company called Onavo. The app, Onavo Protect, has been sitting there, not doing a whole lot. But now Facebook is on a more concerted push to make Onavo part of your Facebook experience.

If you launch the Facebook app on your smartphone, pop into the settings and scroll down the "Explore "section (you might need to tap on a "Show more" option) you'll find a link to something called Protect. This leads you to an App Store link for Onavo Protect. But it's not just about protecting your data.

As well as doing all the usual stuff you expect from a VPN, like protecting data communications with encryption, Onavo is being used by Facebook to "collect your mobile data traffic". 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".

Image: Screen captures by Anthony Caruana from iOS 11

Facebook already captures a massive amount of data about what we like, where we go, who we're with and how we feel. Adding network traffic will give them incredibly rich data about how we use our devices outside Facebook.

I'm calling it. This is spyware.

While the Australian metadata retention laws might be seen as a massive over-reach by government, I wonder how many people will just install this and provide a commercial company that has little interest in anything that isn't profitable with a far richer picture of what we do than any government scheme.

And, who's to say the data Facebook collects will not be subpoenaed or requested by law enforcement? Imagine what someone could learn by putting together all your mobile data use - not just metadata about a limited range of activities.

In case you missed the point here - do not install Onavo Protect. There are plenty of great VPN services out there like Proton, or this list of the five best VPNs we recently published.

In short, no business on Earth needs this much information about you.

The Five Best VPNs For 2017

We last updated our list of best VPN providers in 2014, but a lot has changed since then. With Netflix blocking VPNs and privacy becoming more of a concern than ever, the parameters of a good VPN for Aussie users have shifted. Some popular choices have fallen out of favour of late, so we've had a look at what VPN users in Australia are recommending now and for the year ahead.

Read more


    Best of all, don't use Facebook, Google or any "free" products from such companies because they aren't free at all. They only look like they're free on the surface but users are paying a heavy price in using them and that price is their privacy. Social media is a farce, causing anxiety, depression, an increase in peer pressure and loss of self-esteem amongst youngsters. It's not like we don't have enough of these problems already. The people who actually care about your life have your phone number and can make a good old-fashioned phone call to see how you're doing.

      But google is my friend, it looks after all my movies :)

      What is "you" (your data) worth to Facebook? In 2017 it was around $1.65 per month profit in per person in advertising sales. (revenue earnings vs estimated user base). And it went up $0.50 since 2015. Thats what your privacy is worht, thats what spying on you gives them.

      Facebook yeah, but G Suite is a paid service and doesn't utilise your data data mining.

    Hang on, Onavo describing itself as a Facebok company years ago wasn't enough of a tip off that it was now bad idea to use?

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