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Facebook is pushing its data-tracking Onavo VPN within its main mobile app (techcrunch.com)
105 points by evo_9 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

It feels like Orwellian level double-speak to market an app that is designed to allow Facebook to monitor at your mobile traffic as "protecting" your phone and "securing" your connection.

They say a good salesman can sell ice to an eskimo. Well, today we found out a great marketing person can sell spyware as security software.

This comment reminded of this clip of Chris Hitchens about North Korea


(paraphrasing:) "Going in, I knew I wouldn't call them Orwellian. But eventually they make you do it"

>This past fall, Facebook snatched up the teen compliment app tbh, and quickly integrated a similar Q&A feature into its social network soon after. This all took place before Tbh had truly established itself as a new social network. It wasn’t clear at the time if it was the next big thing, or just a flash in the pan. (It appears to have been the latter.) Onavo’s insights into Tbh’s fast rise and heavy engagement likely gave Facebook a heads-up. >it’s not likely that all Onavo users understand they’re actually feeding Facebook the information that allows it to take on any challenger to its social networking empire.

I wonder if it's be possible to make a social networking startup, optimise solely for Onavo metrics, and get bought out by Facebook.

All you have to do is create a social/chat app and get most teens and young adults to start using it. Piece of cake. Profit train here we come!

"Like other VPNs, it acts as a secure connection to protect people from potentially harmful sites."

Ah, no... that's not what a VPN is for

"The app may collect your mobile data traffic to help us recognize tactics that bad actors use"

So, competitors?

VPN has always been marketed as a silver bullet that protects you from all the evil that exists on the Internet. Only if people were little more aware about how it works, they'd not fall prey to such tricks.

That said, as we discuss this of HN, there will be millions out there falling prey to FB.

This is how Facebook always manages to buy those up-and-coming social network apps approximately 2 weeks after they launch.

It sees all the apps folks are using and buys and kills the ones that look threatening.

Fb keeps many things within its own app - all links clicked inside the app never goes to browser.this is a very big security risk, imo.

Controlling webview means they can even see your password and all.

I hate this trend. I think all the major messenger apps do this now, it was an awful surprise in LINE. The yelp app is basically unusable now for researching new restaurants since they go so far as to prevent people from popping out into a real browser, and now the Gmail app attempts to lock you in now too.

I hate it too. Mainly because my behavior - especially on Yelp - is to open multiple restaurants in tabs in my browser. Even on mobile. Then I can compare the ones I like.

This is impossible within their tabless "embedded" browser. So I end up using my laptop.

Yelp has one of the worst and most spiteful mobile websites, too. Most of the features are removed, you’re limited to a handful of pictures and I don’t think you can even read all the reviews. It’s enough to make me not want to use them at all.

Not just mobile though: any links in emails in the web version of Googles inbox also open a Google URL first before redirecting to the URL.

Some apps in WhatsApp stay within WhatsApp as well. For example Marktplaats, the Dutch counterpart for Ebay/ Craigslist doesn't leave WhatsApp but gets opened within. Nice for them to be able to view what I'm looking for.

GMail does the same - it looks like an industry wide trend.

Basically smartphones are there to destroy all the gains in privacy and security made on desktop browsers (such as they are)

Gmail uses custom tabs and you can pop it to browser on android.

The FB mobile site works really well on my iPhone.

Not sure if you know but just in case; you can use mbasic.facebook.com to save some data (and I found it to be much easier to use, less clutter).

Plus, it offers messaging without the Messenger app.

This seems to greatly improve battery life too, at least for me. Did this for Twitter too. Even with background turned off, I would see them using background battery before

How does something like this interact with the GDPR? Like Art 5, 1b, "collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes" - I'm not sure that "analysing VPN traffic to find out what apps people are using" qualifies.

Or even Art 5, 1c, "adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed".

Art 9, 1, "Processing of personal data revealing [anything uniquely personal] shall be prohibited." Knowing that someone is launching Grindr, for example, is a partial clue to their sexual identity. etc.etc.

What is it about Facebook these days that every new thing they try is evil?

They bought a service marketed as a privacy protection tool in order to monitor the traffic of its (largely unsuspecting) users, so they can know which startups to buy to prevent any competition or innovation.

Perhaps Facebook doesn't mind appearing blatantly creepy and evil, and is happy to continue to live off the unbothered and ignorant users, a la the Nigerian prince scams[0]?

[0] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/why-do-...

Wasn't it always?

It's not about what Facebook is doing, it's about how it's perceived. Many blame Facebook for the Brexit/Trump/ultra-right rise and see any step of the social media giant as evil. You know how they say...if a man connects lives of a billion people and fucks up one democracy, they don't call him a visionary, they call him evil.

In my opinion Brexit/Trump go back way before Facebook. Facebook was just another tool to be exploited for those with the agenda.

Indeed, there is a lot more in brexit/trump story, but not everything causes the Congressional Hearing on the foreign hostile state meddling in the 2016 election.

Facebook releasing a VPN app, hard to say how ironic that is.

Seems to be some sort of communication strategy to show they care about privacy or something, to consumers who understand nothing about computers.

It's not really them releasing one, they bought one that was established and then just started siphoning user data. For a long time there was no obvious link in the App Store from Onavo to Facebook.

Brave browser + mobile website. Brave supports "Desktop Site", at least on Android, so you can get your messenging in too.

But Brave wouldn't be able to warn you about Onavo VPN. Or maybe it could?

Messaging on facebook works on the lite website too. I2d recommend you to try it if the giant bloat bothers you

Last time I tried it didn't work with the lite app.

Is this a new or different presentation of Onavo in the FB app? I've seen this menu item in the Android app for probably 2 years or more.

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