Facebook VPN that spies on users is taken from Android store

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Facebook has removed its privacy invasive Onavo Protect VPN app from the Google Play Store and has reportedly stopped swallowing data from users who still have the app on their devices.

Facebook “will immediately stop extracting data from [Onavo] users for market research, although it will continue to operate as a virtual private network in the short term to allow users to find a replacement, ”TechCrunch reported yesterday.

Facebook Onavo website still exists, but the links to both Android and iOS apps are broken. Facebook removed the app from the App Store for iPhone and iPad in August 2018 after Apple determined that Onavo had violated its data collection rules. Facebook bought Onavo, an Israeli company, in 2013.

With suspicion about the tech giants and looming regulation leading to a more in-depth review of privacy practices, Facebook has decided to give users a utility like a VPN in exchange for a silent review of their use of the mobile app and data browsing is not a smart strategy, ”TechCrunch wrote. “Instead, it will focus on paid programs where users explicitly understand how much privacy they are giving up for direct financial compensation.”

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed Onavo’s shutdown to TechCrunch, telling the news site that it was “shifting our focus to rewards-based market research, which means we’re going to end the Onavo program. “.

a archived version of Onavo’s Google Play page indicates that the application collects information such as the applications installed on users’ phones, the time spent using the applications, the amount of mobile and Wi-Fi data used per application, the sites Web visited and country, device and network type.

Facebook stops recruiting for the “Search” application

Additionally, Facebook has stopped recruiting new users for “Facebook Research,” TechCrunch wrote. Apple previously blocked Facebook from distributing the app to iOS users, but it remains available on Android. “Existing studies on the Facebook Research app will continue to be conducted,” although Facebook will not recruit more users, TechCrunch wrote.

TechCrunch previously detailed the Facebook Research app in a investigation titled “Facebook Pays Teens To Install VPN That Spies On Them.”

As of 2016, the Facebook Research app for iOS and Android offered users $ 20 per month in gift cards in exchange for personal data. On iOS, the app was distributed outside of Apple’s App Store, using a company program to distribute apps internally to employees of a company. Apple last month revoked Facebook’s enterprise developer certificate to prevent this workaround, saying enterprise certificates cannot be used to distribute apps to consumers. The certificate was then restored, presumably after Facebook agreed to use it only for its intended purpose.

The Facebook Research app “asked users for root access to all data on their phone and allowed Facebook to track their browsing history, message content, app usage patterns, and user data. localization, ”we wrote at the time. “It even had the potential to allow Facebook to decrypt encrypted network traffic on users’ devices.”

We reached out to Facebook today and asked how long the existing studies of the Facebook research program will continue to run on Android devices and if it will continue to store and use the data collected from Onavo. We will update this story if we get a response.

UPDATE: Facebook responded to us and confirmed general details of TechCrunch’s story but did not respond to our questions about ongoing studies of the Facebook Research program or Facebook’s use of data collected from Onavo.


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