Facebook privacy app pulled after Apple says it violates people's privacy

The Onavo Protect app claimed to offer users a virtual private network (VPN) to 'keep you and your data safe'

Anthony Cuthbertson
Friday 24 August 2018 10:41 BST
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to make privacy protection its top priority when he spoke during the annual F8 summit in San Jose earlier this year
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg vowed to make privacy protection its top priority when he spoke during the annual F8 summit in San Jose earlier this year

A Facebook app that was intended to protect people’s browsing privacy has been pulled by Apple from its app store because it actually collected significant data about the people using it.

The virtual private network (VPN) app Onavo Protect claimed to offer users a way to "keep you and your data safe" by passing internet traffic through a private server owned by Facebook.

Onavo Protect had been available on Apple's app store for several years, however Facebook's app was found to be in violation of new privacy rules introduced by the iPhone maker in June. The rules concerned the collection of data that is not directly relevant to the app's purpose.

Through the app, Facebook was able to analyse user's internet activity beyond Facebook and the removal of the VPN app, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, came despite talks between the two tech rivals last week.

"We've always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used," a Facebook spokesperson said. "As a developer on Apple's platform we follow the rules they've put in place."

An Apple spokesperson said: "We work hard to protect user privacy and data throughout the Apple ecosystem."

The Onavo app remains available for Android devices through download on the Google Play store.

On Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would not ban Holocaust denialism on the site

News of the removal of the Onavo Protect app came on the same day that Facebook revealed it had suspended more than 400 apps from its platform over data-collection concerns.

Facebook said it had investigated thousands of apps since revelations that UK data firm Cambridge Analytica had improperly used people's personal information for the purpose of political profiling in the build up to the 2016 US presidential elections and the EU referendum in the UK that same year.

One of the apps banned was myPersonality, an app that allowed people to take psychometric tests. It is estimated that around 4 million people shared their Facebook profile with the app, though Facebook claims there is no evidence that myPersonality accessed the information of users' contacts.

"We have suspended more than 400 due to concerns around the developers who built them or how the information people chose to share with the app may have been used – which we are now investigating in much greater depth," Facebook said in a blog post.

"It's also why we've changed many of our policies – such as our expansion of App Review and our new policy that no information will be shared with apps if you haven't used them in 90 days."

The social media giant that its investigations into apps will continue, as well as the review of its policy.

Security expert Morten Brogger, who heads encrypted messaging service Wire, told The Independent: "Facebook has once again shown that they are not interested in security, nor are they willing to be open and transparent with their users."

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