You may have seen a new button in Facebook’s mobile app lately: under the Settings menu, a “Protect” option leads you to download an app called Onavo Protect. Don’t do it.
If you head to Facebook’s settings and scroll down—you may need to click “More” to view more options—you’ll see this button:
Press it, and you’ll be taken to the App Store to download Onavo Protect. Right now, this button is only showing up on iPhones, and it isn’t clear if everyone’s seeing it or if it’s just showing up for some users. But it may roll out further soon, and it may come to the Android version of the app soon—and the Onavo Protect app exists on both the iOS App Store and Android’s Google Play. It may seem like a good option for a free, security-focused app, but it isn’t. It’s a way for Facebook to spy on you…you know, more than they already are.
How VPNs Work
Onavo Protect is a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. We have a full rundown on what VPNs do here, but put simply: a VPN encrypts all your internet traffic and routes it through a server somewhere else.
Using a VPN has a few advantages. It can make you look like you’re in a different location, so you can watch the BBC’s coverage of the Olympics instead of NBC’s (lame) version. It can help you access your home or work network while traveling. And, since it encrypts all your traffic, a VPN can help thwart people who try to snoop your traffic while you’re using public Wi-Fi.
Onavo promises to do all of this, and for free. But, as with all things free, there’s a big catch.
What Onavo Protect Does
Onavo Protect was purchased by Facebook in 2013, for the express purpose of…you guessed it: mining your data.
See, Facebook can track a lot of what you do on the web, but it can’t track what you do in other apps on your phone. When you turn Onavo Protect on, however, you are routing all of your internet traffic through Facebook’s servers, where the information is decrypted for them to see. The Wall Street Journal published an article about this last year, but you don’t…
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