Facebook’s Onavo Protect VPN app has been voluntarily removed from the iOS App Store after Apple said the app violates the App Store’s data collection policies.
Earlier this month, Apple officials informed Facebook that the app violated new rules outlined in June designed to limit data collection by app developers, the person familiar with the situation said. Apple informed Facebook that Onavo also violated a part of its developer agreement that prevents apps from using data in ways that go beyond what is directly relevant to the app or to provide advertising, the person added.
The two companies reportedly met last week to discuss the app, and Apple suggested that Facebook voluntarily remove the app from the store. Facebook agreed to do so.
Onavo – promoted as a free VPN app designed to keep a user’s data safe while browsing on the web – actually tracked a user’s activity across different apps, providing valuable data about customers’ third-party app usage.
When Onavo users opened an app or website, the traffic was logged by Facebook’s servers for analysis. Onava is believed to have been installed on over 33 million iOS and Android devices.
It should be noted that the Onavo for iOS app description did inform users about the data collection, but the actual data being collected was beyond what Apple allows.
To provide this layer of protection, Onavo uses a VPN to establish a secure connection to direct all of your network communications through Onavo’s servers. As part of this process, Onavo collects your mobile data traffic. 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.
Apple provided the following statement on the removal of Onavo:
We work hard to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem. With the latest update to our guidelines, we made it explicitly clear that apps should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing and must make it clear what user data will be collected and how it will be used.
While the iOS version has been removed from the App Store, users who have previously installed the app will still be able to use it, but updates will no longer be available. Onavo for Android is still available.