Facebook ‘Protect’ software installs spyware on iOS

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It may seem like an easy way to ensure your safety online, but Facebook’s new Protect feature could be tracking your every move.

Onavo Protect, bought by the social networking company back in 2013, is being promoted to users of the iOS version of its app.

It promises to secure iPhones and iPads by routing online traffic through its servers, using a process called virtual private networking (VPN).

What is not immediately apparent when you sign up, however, is that the service can be used to spy on your browsing habits, including your use of rival social networking apps.

The push to promote Onavo Protect was first spotted in the US version of the Facebook app for Apple devices.

VPNs are often used by the security conscious to maintain their anonymity and privacy online.

They are also popular for bypassing restrictions on free speech in a number of authoritarian states across the globe, including China.

However, small-print found on Onavo’s page on the App Store reveals its potential to be used for more than just security purposes.

It reads: ‘To provide this protection, Onavo uses a VPN to establish a secure connection to direct all of your network communications through Onavo’s servers. 

‘As part of this process, Onavo collects your mobile data traffic. 

‘This helps us improve and operate the Onavo service by analysing your use of websites, apps and data. 

‘Because we’re part of Facebook, we also use this info to improve Facebook products and services, gain insights into the products and services people value, and build better experiences.’

While the exact nature of the data being monitored by Facebook is unknown, it is possible that it could be used to monitor a user’s browsing on any other site.

The Menlo Park, California, company could also use this information to find out how apps from rivals firms like Snapchat and Twitter are being used.  

That Facebook is so keen to advertise the product through its app may also ring alarm bells for some.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Erez Naveh, Product Manager at Onavo, said: ”We recently began letting people in the US access Onavo Protect from the Facebook app on their iOS devices.

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

‘The app may collect your mobile data traffic to help us recognise tactics that bad actors use. 

‘Over time, this helps the tool work better for you and others. 

‘We let people know about this activity and other ways that Onavo uses and analyses data before they download it.’

 

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