European Union investigators have decided to widen their probe against illegal business practices inside Facebook. The investigative arm of the European Commission is now trying to find out whether the social media giant had used private user information, including any data obtained via Facebook’s Onavo VPN, to attack its rivals.
Sources inside the European Union are telling The Wall Street Journal that the company needs to turn over a cache of internal documents. These will reveal whether Facebook has rewarded its partners inappropriately and cut off rivals from access to vital resources.
In particular, investigators from the EU Commission are interested in how Facebook used Onavo VPN, an Israel-developed app that was acquired in 2013. The company then used the service to track how customers used rival applications, which made it easier for the social media company to see which rivals were gaining users. Armed with that information, Facebook was able to move to either buy them fast or squash them.
Facebook Onavo VPN is no longer available for download on iOS or Android. Executives at the company claim that they have used the private user data in a legal way. They also explain that data logging was revealed to users as soon as they signed up for the VPN.
To get access to this data, the European Commission is using a law that allows it to get daily fines from companies that do not cooperate. Facebook is claiming that it would have to hand over millions of documents to satisfy the requests.
Timothy Lamb, an associate general counsel at Facebook, is quoted by The Wall Street Journal saying that:
We are committed to cooperating with regulators on inquiries about the competitive landscape in which we operate.
Facebook might have to pay a fine of more than $7 billion if found guilty. The company would also have to change its business practices to offer rivals more access to its infrastructure. Facebook Onavo VPN user data is no longer involved in strategic decision making.
Facebook Used Privacy Tech for Evil
Roi Tiger and Guy Rosen founded Onavo in Israel in 2010. The company launched a product called Onavo Extend, offering a VPN focused on data compression. It also provided Onavo Protect, a VPN with extensive security features. It won multiple awards in 2011.
Facebook bought the company in 2013. Facebook Onavo VPN advertising became part of the company’s iOS and Android apps. Users and researchers labeled it as spyware because it collected personal information while not disclosing its association with the social media company.
In August of 2019, Facebook pulled Onavo VPN from the iOS App Store after Apple declared that it violated the company’s guidelines. In February 2019, the company also pulled the VPN app from Android’s Play Store.
The Facebook Onavo VPN controversy did not end there. Reports revealed that the tech was re-branded as Facebook Research and was included in Project Atlas, a market research program.
Users between 13 and 35 were invited to download the new app on their phones and to install a Facebook root certificate. The company could then gain access to Web browsing and search history, application usage statistics, personal messages, location tracking, photos and videos, Amazon order history, and more.
Apple claimed that Facebook Research illegally used its access to iOS devices. It soon disappeared from the App Store, but the makers of the iPhone then briefly revoked the Enterprise Developer Program certificates for Facebook. All of the company’s internal iOS apps became unavailable before the two tech giants solved their conflict.
Onavo VPN Abuse Can Lead to Significant Changes at Facebook
Facebook previously paid a $123 million fine, when the EU charged it with offering misleading information. The 2017 European Commission probe targeted the acquisition of WhatsApp and how the company used data obtained from the app.
Documents revealed in 2019 show that Facebook used data acquired from Onavo VPN to evaluate the threat coming from WhatsApp. Months before the messaging app was bought, internal presentations showed it as a potential competitor.
Facebook is facing investigations in both the EU and in the United States of America. The Federal Trade Commission is examining Facebook acquisitions, including how it used personal info it accessed. The Justice Department and some states are also conducting probes involving anti-trust issues.
The Facebook Onavo VPN abuse might be one of the big reasons to force the company to tweak its approach to personal information. For users, the lesson is to never trust big tech companies to present their right to privacy.
Just recently, Avast – the maker of the Secure Line VPN, had to apologize and change policies regarding data collection. The company closed the Jumpshot division after reports revealed that it was collecting data and selling it to third parties.
Facebook Onavo VPN and Avast Secure Line VPN give the entire sector a bad reputation. However, those worried about their privacy still have a wide array of trustworthy VPN solutions to choose from and we offer a handy guide on how to get one up and running.