Facebook's Onavo VPN app removed from Apple App Store over privacy concerns

Reports suggest the app was removed based on a request from Apple.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Facebook has removed its Onavo data security app from the App Store after Apple reportedly asked the social media giant to voluntarily withdraw the software.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, the app, a creation of Israeli mobile analytics startup Onavo, was deemed to violate company policy on data collection.

Onavo was acquired by Facebook in 2013. At the time, Onavo was known for Insights, a market intelligence service which analyzed data to monitor market share and active usage of apps, as well as how people were using their devices -- a service Facebook was naturally interested in.

The app offers a free virtual private network (VPN), commonly used to help disguise your digital footprint and browsing activities.

Onavo is still available on Google Play and has been downloaded over 10 million times.

"Onavo may collect your mobile data traffic," the app's description reads. "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."

According to a source familiar with the matter, Facebook is able to use the information collected by the app to paint a picture of how iOS users use their mobile devices outside of the standard Facebook application.

However, this data slurping has not gone unnoticed by Apple, which reportedly told Facebook in June that the app violated a new set of privacy rules implemented in June.

The new rules are designed to prevent developers from being able to collect user data in bulk and to limit ad targeting.

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In addition, the iPad and iPhone maker reportedly told Facebook that Onavo also breaks the rules when it comes to using data which is not directly relevant to the app itself.

The WSJ says that Apple and Facebook met last week to discuss the problem, where Apple representatives suggested that the social media giant voluntarily remove the software from the App Store.

Onavo will remain -- at least, for now -- on the Google Play store, but the app can no longer be downloaded from the iOS counterpart. In addition, while current users of the app will still find it to be functional, Facebook will not be able to push any updates.

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

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Onavo is yet another hurdle for Facebook to overcome but it is little in comparison to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal which has surrounded the company for months.

Data was slurped from users of a Cambridge Analytica quiz app, as well as their contacts, without consent. In total, up to 87 million users had their data "improperly shared" and collected by the London-based firm.

See also: How Cambridge Analytica used your Facebook data to help elect Trump

In July, the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it was considering the imposition of a £500,000 fine to Facebook over the scandal, the maximum the data watchdog could issue before the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was formally introduced.

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

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