Facebook pulls VPN app from Apple App Store over privacy concerns
- Facebook removed its Onavo virtual private network (VPN) app from Apple's App Store after the iPhone maker said the app violated its data-collection rules, according to The Wall Street Journal. Onavo redirects internet traffic to a private server managed by Facebook with the promise of keeping user data safe and protected from malicious websites.
- Apple last week informed Facebook that Onavo violated rules enacted in June that prohibit certain kinds of data collection by app developers. The company told Facebook that Onavo also violated a policy aimed at preventing apps from using data that isn't directly relevant to the app's functions or in selling ads, an unnamed source told The Wall Street Journal.
- Meanwhile, Facebook announced via blog post that it banned an app called myPersonality that gathered personal data on about 4 million people and was mainly active before 2012. Facebook said the app's publisher failed to agree to its request for an audit, and because the app shared information with researchers as well as companies with only limited protections in place. David Stilwell, a researcher who helped develop the app, described the ban as "nonsensical and purely for PR reasons," per a separate report by The Wall Street Journal.
Facebook's removal of the Onavo app from the App Store at Apple’s request is another indication of serious differences between the companies over the handling of personal information about their customers. The disagreement was heightened this year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which has resulted in multiple investigations and lawsuits from aggrieved parties.
After Facebook later revealed that thousands of apps had been given access to private user data, Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized Facebook's practices and said he considered personal privacy a fundamental human right. Apple, which doesn't depend on advertising revenue that requires sharing its customers' data, was more respectful of personal privacy, he said. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said Cook’s remarks were "extremely glib" because his company provides a service that's free for consumers, while Apple's products are geared towards the luxury market.
Onavo has a key role in helping Facebook monitor app usage on iPhones, which also shapes its corporate strategy of acquiring other apps or copying key features of rivals such as image-messaging app Snapchat, according to The Wall Street Journal. The information gleaned from Onavo helped Facebook determine that it should acquire apps like WhatsApp, which now has more than 1.5 billion users worldwide.
While the removal of Onavo from the App Store could have a material effect on Facebook, its decision to ban the myPersonality app appears to be part of the company's post-Cambridge Analytica public relations campaign. Not only had the app been mostly unused since 2012, but the researchers behind the app were invited to Facebook’s offices in 2011 and 2015 to discuss their work.
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