Facebook 'Protect' software installs spyware on iOS

Facebook's Protect iOS feature effectively installs spyware on iPhones and iPads
Facebook's Protect security feature is essentially Spyware
Author

16 February, 2018

Facebook just started promoting what on first glance might seem like an ordinary VPN app that can keep your data private as you browse the Web.

Unfortunately in some cases, this tracking feature isn't always disclosed so publicly, and in some cases is masquerading as something else.

If you haven't noticed it yet, there's a new feature in your iPhone's Facebook mobile app called 'Protect.' For now, it appears to be available in iOS only in the United States, and if you click on it, you will be redirected to the Onavo VPN app's listing on the App Store.

A data-security app that was acquired back in 2013 by Facebook has now been integrated in to the Facebook app itself.

And as if that was not enough, Facebook rolled out another product named "Onavo Protect - VPN Security" meant to help users manage mobile data either by limiting an app's data usage or by setting them to use only a WiFi connection. Privacy-conscious professionals, especially those that work from their phone or may have a competitive product to Facebook, should seriously consider ditching the app and finding a new VPN client.

Facebook's Protect iOS feature effectively installs spyware on iPhones and iPads
PSA: Don't Use Facebook's New “Protect” Feature. It'll Download This “Spyware”

If you launch the Facebook app on your smartphone, pop into the settings and scroll down the "Explore "section (you might need to tap on a "Show more" option) you'll find a link to something called Protect".

"This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analyzing your use of websites, apps, and data", Onava writes about the app. Those who already know what a VPN is might not bother with the blurb and trust Onavo as an impartial entity. Facebook used the data to identify that Instagram's Stories feature was slowing Snapchat user growth before Snap Inc. itself admitted to the fact. And while the initial excuse for this is to optimise the VPN service, the company also says it'll be using the information to "improve Facebook products".

The app promises to warn you when you visit potentially malicious or harmful sites and help secure your personal information when you're connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

"We recently began letting people in the USA access Onavo Protect from the Facebook app on their iOS devices", Erez Naveh, Product Manager at Onavo, explained the situation in an email. The company is actually collecting and analysing the data of Onavo users. Because Facebook owns Onavo, Facebook gets access to that data. The app may collect your mobile data traffic to help us recognise tactics that bad actors use. But now Facebook is on a more concerted push to make Onavo part of your Facebook experience. We let people know about this activity and other ways that Onavo uses and analyses data before they download it. Many corporations ask their employees to use VPNs when they are working remotely.

There are several VPNs out there, and they essentially all do the same thing: route your internet traffic through a third-party server.

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