Facebook’s Onavo VPN is now available for download under the new ‘Protect’ feature of the company’s mobile app.

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.

Onavo was the Tel Aviv-based mobile data analytics company acquired by Facebook back in 2013. Back then, Onavo’s business revolved around optimizing device and app performance as well as battery life on both iOS and Android devices. It also offered data analytics services to mobile publishers to help them keep track of their app’s performance.

People are getting suspicious of @facebook's Protect feature that redirects users to the Onavo VPN app's listing in App Store. The VPN is allegedly used by Facebook to spy on its users and take down competitors.Click To Tweet

Now, more than four years after its acquisition, Facebook is making a move to utilize Onavo. While it appears that the rollout is just to test the said feature in the country, many argue that Onavo VPN is only a part of a growing Facebook effort to spy on people’s mobile activities and take down its competitors.

Facebook's Protect feature that redirects users to the Onavo VPN app's listings
Facebook’s Protect feature that redirects users to the Onavo VPN app’s listings | TechCrunch | techcrunch.com

Is Facebook Trying to Spy on People Using the Onavo VPN?

According to TechCrunch, this is not the first time that Facebook tested the Onavo VPN under the Protect banner. Back in 2016, Next Web’s director of social media, Matt Navarra, tweeted about the said feature from the United Kingdom.

Apparently, Facebook is seriously looking into marketing the said VPN through the mobile app. Not only will it be a useful advertising strategy, its promise to warn users of malicious websites while ensuring the security of their information could boost its number of users.

However, reports claim that Facebook didn’t acquire Onavo for its security offerings. Instead, the tech giant is particularly interested in its capability to monitor user activities across different apps. According to an article from The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is collecting and analyzing the data that Onavo gathered from its users.

By doing so, the Zuckerberg-owned company gets an enormous advantage when it comes to spotting new trends on a larger scale. Since Onavo VPN can monitor all mobile activities across different apps, Facebook can check on the online habits of people outside of its social media platform. For instance, Facebook was able to get insights on the declining user base of Snapchat even before the latter announced it last year.

Simply put, the Onavo VPN acts as Facebook’s corporate spyware. If you open the app for the first time, it will show you the following disclaimer:

“When you use our VPN, we collect all the info that is sent to, and received from, your mobile device. This includes info about: your device and its location, apps installed on your device and how often you use those apps, the websites you visit, and the amount of data you use.

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.”

Facebook has not issued any comment or official statement regarding the matter. To date, Onavo VPN has approximately 30 million installs from both the App Store and Google Play according to Sensor Tower.

Have you tried the Onavo VPN? Will you be using it despite knowing that Facebook utilizes it to monitor people’s mobile activities?

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