Over the past few years, more internet users have begun using VPNs (virtual private networks) to protect their browsing history from prying eyes. With companies like Facebook and Google, not to mention ISPs themselves, expanding their snooping methods, it is no surprise that users are looking for ways to protect their privacy. Unfortunately, not everything is always as it seems when it comes to the internet.
Take, for example, VPN service Onavo Protect VPN, which was available in the Google Play Store, as well as Apple's App Store. As with any VPN, users expected that the service would allow them to connect to the network with the intention of anonymizing their browsing. The reality, however, is that the service, purchased by Facebook in 2013, did just the opposite. In fact, Facebook used the VPN as a direct method of collecting browsing and user data from those who were using it. According to the archived Google Play listing, the app did disclose its behavior, but we all know how much of an app's description users actually read.
Apple discovered the behavior in 2018 and pulled the app from the App Store for violating its data collection policies. This week, Facebook officially killed the project, removing the app from Google Play as well. While the website still exists, the information is definitely incorrect. Links to both iOS and Android apps are dead, and the company is no longer offering the service.
This is not the first time Facebook has done this type of thing. In fact, Facebook Research ran an experiment, paying rewards to teens and adults that would install a similar VPN service, which gave the company root access to their phones and tracked all of their behavior. This app is not distributed through official channels, meaning that Google and Apple have had no recourse to stop the behavior. According to Facebook, this program is no longer recruiting new members but will continue with those who are already involved.
The end of these programs definitely signals a Facebook that is aware of consumers' mistrust in the brand. 2018 was not a good year for Facebook's brand image, especially when it comes to privacy and security. Between hacks and improper data usage, Facebook is quickly becoming synonymous with privacy violation, and this move is intended to prevent another scandal.