Facebook Uses Data from Onavo To Track Apps and Services Which People Use

BY Rajesh Pandey

Published 14 Aug 2017

In 2013, Facebook acquired an Israeli mobile-analytics company called Onavo which was primarily known for Onavo Protect, a VPN app. Facebook, however, has used data collected from Onavo to shape its future policies and product roadmaps.

A detailed report from Wall Street Journal has interviewed more than a dozen of people who know how Facebook uses the data collected from Onavo to give itself a competitive advantage.

Onavo’s Protect app is used by millions of people from across the world to browse the web anonymously. This data is first routed through Facebook’s server, with all user data and action being logged into a database. The Facebook’s product team then goes through this database to know which apps people are using, for how long, and more. This data can be particularly specific as well if it is not encrypted like knowing the number of snaps someone posts on Snapchat in a day.

A Facebook spokesman said it is clear when people download Onavo what information it collects and how it is used. “Websites and apps have used market-research services for years,” the spokesman said, noting that the company also uses outside services to help it understand the market and improve services.

While Onavo Protect is primarily used by Android users, many iPhone owners also use the app. So, Facebook collecting such data from users for improving its products and services and shape its future policies. But as per Apple’s developer agreement, developers can only use the collected data “to provide a service or function that is directly relevant to the use of the Application or to serve advertising.”

In 2013, when Facebook acquired Onavo, the data collected by the app hinted that WhatsApp was installed on over 99 percent of devices in Spain. Less than a year later in February 2014, Facebook went ahead and purchased WhatsApp for $22 billion. Similarly, data from Onavo showed the rising popularity of live-video apps like Periscope and Meerkat which eventually led Facebook to add a live video streaming feature to its app in early 2016.

Similarly, when Facebook noticed soon after debuting Stories on Instagram that Snapchat’s use has gone down, the company went ahead and debuted the feature across all its products and services — Messenger, WhatsApp, and Facebook.

I already don’t have the Facebook app installed on any of my devices due to privacy reasons and after the startling revelation made in this WSJ report, I ‘d be thinking twice before using any services offered by Facebook. If you were using Onavo Protect and are now looking for an alternative, I will suggest you to try Private Internet Access VPN.

[Via Wall Street Journal]