A lot of people simply use Facebook for voyeuristic purposes. Seeing what your friends and family are doing, what they’re eating, and which places they have checked into.
However, if you dive a bit deeper you learn that the social network has a variety of features and functionality in place to extend the usefulness. One new feature, called Protect, is designed to make users feel safer, but all may not be as it seems.
Accessible from within the Facebook mobile app, the newly added Protect feature simply takes a user directly to the App Store and points them to a VPN application called “Onavo Protect – VPN Security.”
Now, as we know, VPNs are widely used and are generally put in place to establish an additional layer of protection between the user and the Internet in order to bounce traffic through different server’s to protect identity and information. However, in this instance, Onavo is actually a Facebook-owned VPN service, which contains onerous terms about how it collects and uses data:
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 insight into the products and services people value, and build better experiences.
As noted by TechCrunch, Facebook purchased Onavo a number of years ago back in 2013, and while there is no denying the usefulness of a VPN for security purposes, and no suggestions that Onavo doesn’t do what it says on the tin from a security perspective, you can’t help but feel that this protection feature has been put in place to collect additional user data for targeted ads purposes rather than purely to protect the user and offer a safer browsing and social network experience.
Facebook currently holds a lot of data about users which it gets from account holders through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and any other Facebook-owned service. However, it doesn’t currently have easy access to browsing habits and the type of websites that people visit. Using Onavo would change that.
If you are happy to trade your privacy for the benefits that a free VPN offers, then the Protect feature is for you. If you see this as essentially Facebook-owned spyware for your iPhone or Android device, then it’s best to steer clear.
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