Facebook pulls Onavo app from Apple App Store after data collection claims

23 Aug 2018

Facebook login screen on mobile. Image: Nopparat Khokthong/Shutterstock

Facebook removes Onavo as Apple claims privacy rules were broken.

Facebook has removed its free VPN app, Onavo Protect, from the App Store after Apple reportedly claimed it had violated its policies.

The Apple policies became a lot stricter in June of this year.

What rules did Onavo break?

First reported in The Wall Street Journalthe app apparently violated guidelines that don’t allow apps to collect user information for the sake of marketing and analytics. It is also said to have broken a rule forbidding apps from using that data for advertising or other, unrelated purposes.

Onavo also got in trouble for running analytics queries on the traffic it routed through its servers as part of its VPN service.

The problem with this is that Facebook can reportedly track your activity across apps if you are using Onavo. For example, Facebook can monitor user interest in apps that are new to market, or its biggest rivals.

If users have downloaded the app, it will continue working, but it is no longer available on the App Store.

According to The Wall Street Journal: “The two sides discussed the issue in meetings last week, at least one of which took place at Apple’s headquarters. On Thursday, Apple officials suggested that Facebook voluntarily take down the Onavo app and Facebook agreed, said the person, who described the discussions as cordial.”

Facebook acquired the app along with its 2013 purchase of Onavo, an Israel-based mobile analytics start-up. The app provides a VPN service to users to keep their browsing safe from cyber-criminals.

Facebook says it made things clear with users

The company said in a statement that it had always been forthcoming with users of Onavo around how it leverages the data collected through the app.

It said: “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.”

There are currently no plans to remove the Onavo app from the Google Play Store. According to TechCrunch, the app had been downloaded more than 33m times across both iOS and Android.

Facebook login screen on mobile. Image: Nopparat Khokthong/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects