Facebook Pulls VPN from App Store Following Pressure from Apple

Facebook has pulled Onavo Protect from Apple’s App Store after it was told that the security application was in violation of the store’s privacy rules. Apple had informed the social media giant that Onavo Protect violated its data-collection policies last week.

The app, which was available as a free download, is developed by an Israeli analytics company that was acquired by Facebook in 2013. Onavo produces a number of consumer utility apps, including Onavo Count, which tracks bandwidth usage by apps, Onavo Extend, a data compression service, and Onavo Protect, a VPN service.

But it turned out that Facebook was using the VPN service to monitor the behavior of smartphone users outside its core apps. Namely, it used data collected through Onavo Protect to help shape its live video strategy, its acquisition strategy, including the $22 billion purchase of WhatsApp, as well as to compete with other social apps – it was reportedly able to spot user interest in Snapchat’s Stories before the introduction of a copycat feature on Instagram for instance.

The app had previously come under scrutiny on a couple of occasions. The CEO of Sudo Security Group had blogged about the VPN reporting details about user behavior back to Facebook, namely, when a mobile device is turned on or off, WiFi and cellular data usage even when the VPN app is off, the amount of time the VPN connection is used, and traffic passing through its network.

Experts at VPNSpecial.com has also reported that the app could be tracking purchases made using HotKnot mobile payments chips on Android phones.

The pressure from Apple on Facebook comes after the former updated their privacy rules back in June, restricting developers’ ability to collect data on users and selling it to third parties.

The move also comes in the context of a fraught relationship between the two giants and Facebook’s seemingly never-ending privacy scandals. Though the app is removed from the App Stores, users who have already downloaded it on their iOS will be able to continue using it but won’t receive any updates. Meanwhile, the Android version still remains on Google’s Play Store.