Facebook is rolling out a new “project” feature for iOS users where it is urging them to install the Onavo VPN. And while a VPN can be a good thing, the Onavo VPN actually collects a user’s browser history and data in the context of improving its service. In addition, Onavo is owned by Facebook, so the data that is collected can be used by Facebook. Facebook is saying that it will use the data to “gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences.” But is that the case?
On paper, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but how can this data be used? Facebook believes that it will give them an edge over their competitors. It was due to this data that Facebook was able to realize Instagram’s popularity and purchase it. Similarly, the data allowed the company to know about the increasing popularity of Snapchat and take steps to counter it. Facebook is telling you that in order for them to protect you, you need to install a VPN app onto your iPhone. This will then allow them to analyze your browsing behavior in order to collect important data.
Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch that this is only rolling out in the United States:
“We recently began letting people in the U.S. access Onavo Protect from the Facebook app on their iOS devices. Like other VPNs, it acts as a secure connection to protect people from potentially harmful sites. The app may collect your mobile data traffic to help us recognize tactics that bad actors use. Over time, this helps the tool work better for you and others. We let people know about this activity and other ways that Onavo uses and analyses data before they download it.”
Once you install the VPN on your iPhone or iPad, all of your data is routed through their servers. This helps in protecting your privacy online. However, many VPN apps actually collect a user’s browsing history and use it to their advantage. Which, is actually a breach of their privacy. And how will Facebook use this data? Well, they’re saying they’re using it in order to provide a better user experience, but that might not exactly be the case. They could be using it to collect data and then give it to advertisers. Or worse. I think a VPN is a good way to protect yourself, but I’m not sure that using Facebook’s VPN is the way to go.
Especially since Facebook hasn’t really been upfront with people about the use of this data. In their statement to TechCrunch, they simply explain why a VPN is helpful, but they don’t really get into what data they’re collecting or what they will do with it. If I used Facebook, I would be cautious about installing this VPN myself. Use caution when it comes to installing this VPN, but that’s just my personal opinion.