Facebook Closes Its 'Market Research' Spying VPN, Onavo

By Holly Brockwell on at

Another day, another embarrassment for Facebook. The company has decided to close Onavo Protect, the ostensibly privacy-focused VPN that conducted sneaky market research for the social network.

Facebook had already pulled the iOS version of the super-sketchy VPN after TechCrunch discovered it was using Onavo code to monitor teenagers' activities in a notorious scheme that paid them for their private browsing data. Now the Android version is gone too, though it'll keep working as a VPN for a short time in case anyone's still using it (why?).

The social network has also stopped recruiting new users for its we-pay-for-your-data Facebook Research programme, which was recently booted from iOS for breaking the rules. This also led to Facebook losing its Apple Enterprise Certificate, which killed all its internal apps.

People generally use a VPN to keep their browsing data private. Facebook's VPN claimed to secure your personal information, but also admitted it'd be harvesting data including the "time you spend using apps, mobile and Wi-Fi data you use per app, the websites you visit, and your country, device and network type."

Feeding your data to Big Brother Facebook is pretty much the opposite of why you'd use a VPN, and there's no way the social network's management didn't know this when they chose to acquire Onavo Protect and promote it through Facebook.

A Facebook spokesperson gave TechCrunch the following unapologetic statement:

"Market research helps companies build better products for people. We are shifting our focus to reward-based market research which means we’re going to end the Onavo program."

Read: "we're not sorry, we're mostly just annoyed that you've spoilt our fun and now we have to find a new way to spy on people. Which we will continue to do."

There's no doubt Facebook's $200m purchase of Onavo was fruitful for them: it provided the data showing WhatsApp would be a good acquisition for the social network, leading them to buy it for $19m.

We doubt it'll be long before they find a new way to keep an eye on what users are doing with their personal devices -- how else will they know which Snapchat features to copy?