With over 2 billion users worldwide, it's safe to say that Facebook is the largest social media site out there. Connecting with people from our past or present and staying in touch with friends and family who live across the globe is part of Facebook's appeal.
But, one downside to being on social media is having to be constantly worried about your privacy.
To remedy that, Facebook is rolling out its own privacy tool that's designed to keep your mobile data traffic secure. But is it really that secure and private as it claims to be? Let's take a closer look.
We're talking about a new security feature on Facebook called "Protect." Once it rolls out to you, you can access it within your iOS or Android Facebook app's main menu (tap the three horizontal lines) under the "Explore" section. Scroll down or click "More" and you should see a feature labeled Protect.
Tapping the "Protect" link actually opens the download page for a VPN app called "Onavo Protect - VPN Security." Note: Facebook bought the Onavo company back in 2013.
Now, a VPN service is a good way to boost your online security and privacy especially when connected to public Wi-Fi. It is also a good way to hide your internet tracks from would-be snoops. Think of it as a middleman that provides a tunnel between you and the websites you're visiting.
Onavo Protect promises just that - "it helps keep you and your data safe when you browse and share information on the web."
Like any other VPN service, it creates a secure connection to Onavo's servers then directs all your traffic through it first. Onavo claims that this will protect you from malicious websites and will keep your personal information like logins and credit card numbers safe.
Based on user reviews and our own testing, Onavo Protect is a perfectly usable mobile VPN service and it delivers on what it promises.
However, its fine print is turning heads and it's causing a bit of an uproar from privacy advocates. People are even starting to label it as Facebook's very own trojan spyware app.
Onavo Protect's fine print
What's causing the uproar? Well, under the "How it works" section on the Onavo Protect app's description are some interesting statements.
It explicitly states that "Onavo collects your mobile data traffic." Now, this in itself will raise some eyebrows since most VPN services pride themselves with the anonymity of their traffic. Good VPN services neither keep logs and records nor collect "data traffic data."
Another statement is equally troubling. Onavo states that since they're part of Facebook, they will use this data to "improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences."
And you probably know what that really means. They're the code words for "targeted advertising."
Facebook's very own "spyware"?
So basically, Onavo Protect is a somewhat clever way to direct all your mobile data, not just your Facebook app activity mind you, but everything you do on your phone, right into Facebook's hands.
Yep, this includes the data across every app you're using, including "secure" browsers and other rival social media sites like Snapchat and Twitter.
Well, other than the ability to snoop on everything you do on your phone and selling the data to advertisers, what else can Onavo Protect's data be used for? It can be used for analyzing app activities and this will allow Facebook to spot emerging trends ahead of everyone else.
We all know Facebook's penchant for buying trending apps and rival services so this information will be extremely valuable.
The bottom line
So maybe you don't mind giving away your privacy for a free VPN service like Onavo Protect but please be aware that is definitely sounding like another Facebook scheme to get more information from its users.
And it might be working. As of this writing, 33 million users already have Onavo Protect in their phones, 33 percent of which have iPhones and 62 percent are on Android.
Our advice? Unless you want to add more to what Facebook already knows about all of us, don't do it. There are other free VPN services available out there. We rounded up a few of the best VPN services. Click here to see how they work.
And please remember this - never forget to always read the fine print.
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In other news, U.S. intelligence agencies warn against using this Chinese smartphone
When it comes to the world of smartphones, your first decision might be the toughest. That is whether you want to be an Apple or Android user. If you go with Android, you will have tons of phone manufacturers to choose from. However, U.S. intelligence agencies are warning consumers against using one Chinese brand in particular. Click here to find out why it might be dangerous to use smartphones made by this Chinese manufacturer.