Facebook isn’t known for its concern for privacy. When you post something to Facebook, that content then belongs to the company in perpetuity. And while the platform’s huge user base uses it as a place to socialise, its commercial purpose is to analyse your preferences and behaviors so that information can then be sold to advertisers, not least on Facebook’s own targeted ad platform.
Long story short: Facebook wants you to have as little privacy as possible.
So when the company unveiled Onavo, what were we to think?
Onavo: Facebook’s own VPN
First reported on February 12, 2018, by TechCrunch, Onavo is Facebook’s own-brand VPN.
You’ll find it under ‘Protect’ in the Facebook app menu.
But I can’t recommend clicking it.
Onavo: friend or foe?
When you use a VPN, you’re routing all your internet traffic through a different server. To the rest of the internet, it looks like all your traffic then originates at that server, not at your own. So your IP address, and thus your location, looks different. Many VPNs encrypt your traffic as well.
So far, so good. You’re safe from the rest of the internet.
But you’re not safe from your VPN.
When you use a VPN, you’re handing over the keys to everything you do online to that VPN. No-one else can see anything; your VPN provider can see anything.
That’s fine if your VPN is reliable.
But if Facebook built it, it probably isn’t.
Onavo ‘spyware,’ says Apple’s Jon Gruber
It turns out that Onavo isn’t just a sketchy VPN service that potentially learns all about you, effectively spying on you for advertisers. Though it absolutely does do that.
Onavo tracks your app usage habits, using the information to get a competitive advantage over your other mobile apps.
And then some.
Onavo doesn’t just track your mobile app use. It tracks all your mobile data usage.
Onavo is there to help Facebook capture even more of your attention, and Facebook’s advertisers capture even more of your data.
Apple’s Jon Gruber says:
‘This is spyware. If you use Onavo, Facebook can and will track everywhere you go on the internet.’
Considering that most of us use a VPN to stop that happening, that’s not what we want to hear.
Onavo isn’t exactly up front about this, either. There’s nothing in its appearance to make it clear that it’s Facebook-owned. You have to read the app description to find that out:
‘As part of this process, Onavo collects your mobile data traffic. This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps and data. 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.’
If not Onavo, then what?
It makes sense to want to use a VPN. A reliable VPN can protect you from hackers and cybercriminals, stop advertisers chasing you around the internet and keep your personal data safe.
But Onavo isn’t a reliable VPN. It’s spyware for Facebook’s advertisers.
If you’re looking for a VPN that will actually keep you safe, head over to our VPN reviews section and find one that’s right for your needs.
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