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Australia sues Facebook for slurping user data from Onavo Protect VPN app

Promised it was free and safe, but Facebook’s promises about privacy aren’t worth the mouse you click ‘em with

Australia’s competition and consumer commission (ACCC) has hauled Facebook into the nation’s Federal Court for alleged false, misleading or deceptive conduct.

The suit rests on the behaviour of Onavo Protect, a VPN app that Facebook acquired in 2013 and said would protect users’ privacy.

But by 2018 security analysts asserted that the app actually sent quite a lot of data to Facebook and pointed out that Onavo’s T&Cs permitted it to route all user data through its servers and to analyse data.

Onavo Protect later disappeared from Apple’s App Store after Cupertino changed its rules to ban the app. Google Play binned Onavo in 2019.

Australia’s beef with Facebook alleged it “misled Australian consumers by representing that the Onavo Protect app would keep users’ personal activity data private, protected and secret, and that the data would not be used for any purpose other than providing Onavo Protect’s products.”

Sharks photo via Shutterstock

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The ACCC cited Apple’s and Google’s expulsion of Onavo Protect and said the app actually “collected, aggregated and used significant amounts of users’ personal activity data for Facebook’s commercial benefit. This included details about Onavo Protect users’ internet and app activity, such as records of every app they accessed and the number of seconds each day they spent using those apps.”

Facebook deprived Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their personal activity data

“Consumers often use VPN services because they care about their online privacy, and that is what this Facebook product claimed to offer. In fact, Onavo Protect channelled significant volumes of their personal activity data straight back to Facebook,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims.

And because users of VPNs have an expectation of privacy, he reckons Facebook’s conduct “deprived Australian consumers of the opportunity to make an informed choice about the collection and use of their personal activity data by Facebook and Onavo.”

Off to court, then, where the ACCC will seek pecuniary penalties and declarations from Facebook that it was very naughty and won’t do this again.

Which is just what Mark Zuckerberg says every time his behaviour-mining ad-pusher breaches privacy, allows fake news to spread, ignores genocidal urgings or is subverted by determined trolls. ®

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