Data breaches and violations of users' privacy continue to make headlines. In the latest news, iPhone maker Apple Inc. (AAPL) has determined that Onavo Protect, a Facebook Inc. (FB) owned security app, scanned what apps users had installed and it then sent that data back to Facebook. The app violated Apple’s new rules of data collection, and the company has removed it from its App Store. As of writing, the app was still available on Google Play, the app store for the Android operating system. It isn’t clear whether Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOGL) Google plans to address the issue on its platform.
Facebook purchased the Tel Aviv-based mobile analytics company Onavo in 2013. Its Onavo Protect app claims to work like a virtual private network (VPN) that keeps user data safe, blocks potentially harmful websites and secures personal information for the user. However, the app was also pushing troves of data to its parent company which allowed Facebook gain access to key information about which apps the users’ were hooked on and which were of fading interest.
A Facebook spokesperson claimed that user transparency was upheld. "We've always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used. As a developer on Apple's platform we follow the rules they've put in place."
Facebook Received Other App Usage Data
TechCrunch reports that the app’s true intentions were buried deep in its description: “Onavo collects your mobile data traffic … 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.”
A potential benefit that any organization can derive from such data collection is to build and launch apps that copy the features of the ones already popular among users, or acquire existing ones outright. (See also: How Much Can Facebook Potentially Make from Selling Your Data.)
The move by Apple to drop the app from its App Store adds another item to Facebook’s already long list of questionable practices regarding the invasion of user’s privacy. Following the Cambridge Analytica saga, where a political advisory firm allegedly sourced and misused users' data from Facebook and other platforms to influence elections, Facebook has been in the eye of the storm and was forced to suspend many apps from its platform that were found to be breaching user privacy. Many users across the globe deleted their Facebook accounts in protest, and user growth has stalled. (See also: Facebook Suspends a Cambridge Analytica-Like App.)