Facebook is finally, ever-so-slightly curtailing one aspect of its creepy data gathering practices, and all it took was a threat from Apple.
The social media and advertising conglomerate plans to remove its Onavo VPN app from the App Store after Apple warned the company that the app was in violation of its policies governing data gathering. So reports the Wall Street Journal, which notes that app should be gone by late Wednesday.
For those blissfully unaware, Onavo sold itself as a virtual private network that people could run “to take the worry out of using smartphones and tablets.” In reality, Facebook used data about users’ internet activity collected by the app to inform acquisitions and product decisions.
Essentially, Onavo allowed Facebook to run market research on you and your phone, 24/7. It was spyware, dressed up and neatly packaged with a Facebook-blue bow. Data gleaned from the app, notes the Journal, reportedly played into the social media giant’s decision to start building a rival to the Houseparty app. Oh, and its decision to buy WhatsApp.
In other words, Facebook seriously relied on the detailed look at users’ web habits that Onavo provided. That specific arrow in the company’s surreptitious quiver will soon be cast aside — sort of.
Importantly, it’s not like the app itself is going anywhere for the untold number of people who’ve already downloaded it. And it’s still available on the Google Play store as of the time of this writing. (Just a little tip for all your Android users out there: Don’t download it.)
While the app’s removal from the App Store is certainly unwelcome news for Facebook, it is likely not surprising. The threatened Apple ban and subsequent Facebook retreat, after all, didn’t come out of the blue. In June of this year, Apple updated its App Store guidelines to explicitly ban “[collecting] information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing.”
As that’s more or less exactly the point of Onavo, people saw the writing on the wall.
Now Facebook will just have to resort to all its other ways of gathering data about its users to determine which burgeoning competitor to crush beneath its hoodie-bedazzled boot. Oh yeah, and all the data it will continue to gather from the misguided people still using Onavo, of course.