Apple recently strengthened its App Store policies on data collection, which has led to numerous apps getting the boot. The latest casualty of the policy is somewhat more notable than the rest. Facebook’s free Onavo Protect VPN client has been removed for violating Apple’s user data rules.
A VPN client can be an excellent way to protect your privacy — the operative word being “can.” Instead of letting your data pass through your carrier or ISP, everything gets routed through the VPN, which relays everything to and from the sites you access. From the ISP’s end, it just looks like you’re connected to the encrypted VPN service all the time. If you trust a VPN more than your ISP, that’s a good deal. Most VPNs with subscriptions promise not to store or snoop on your data. Free VPNs, however, tend to monetize your data in some way. In the case of Onavo, it uses your data to feed Facebook.
According to Apple’s recently revamped guidelines, developers can’t list apps on the App Store that collect and share data with third-parties for any reason other than improving the app’s experience or ads. Onavo Protect, as part of Facebook, feeds all of its data into the bottomless data pit of Facebook, and that data ends up in the hands of many other companies. Onavo’s listing in the App Store before its removal stated that it collected your use of “websites, apps, and data.” So, basically, everything you did on your iPhone ended up in the hands of Facebook and its partners.
Apple has already removed apps that share location data and contacts with third-parties. The Facebook VPN situation is comparatively much more serious. Onavo was collecting all the internet traffic of its users. Apple targeted Onavo specifically because of Facebook’s perplexing popularity. For better or worse, many consumers trust Facebook with their data. Apple made it clear to Facebook it was violating the App Store guidelines. Facebook agreed to remove the app rather than have it purged on Apple’s end.
Anyone who downloaded the Onavo VPN app on iOS previously can continue to use it, but it’s no longer available to iOS users. It’s not the only free VPN app out there, but the others likely have similar data privacy issues unrelated to Facebook. Onavo is still available on Android where it enjoys a 4.4-star rating.