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Facebook Tricks It's Users Into Installing Spyware Under The Guise Of Security

— Sourced from Sarah Perez, Techcrunch

Facebook have a clever, and frankly terrifying, strategy to control and view the very data transferred over the internet. From Sarah Perez at Techcrunch:

Marketing Onavo within Facebook itself could lead to a boost in users for the VPN app, which promises to warn users of malicious websites and keep information secure – like bank account and credit card numbers – as you browse. But Facebook didn’t buy Onavo for its security protections.

Instead, Onavo’s VPN allow Facebook to monitor user activity across apps, giving Facebook a big advantage in terms of spotting new trends across the larger mobile ecosystem. For example, Facebook gets an early heads up about apps that are becoming breakout hits; it can tell which are seeing slowing user growth; it sees which apps’ new features appear to be resonating with their users, and much more.


...strange thing for me to say, "control and view", eh? Why should it matter that they can view the data on the internet?

Almost all of the internet's economy rides on analytics, because almost all of the internet's economy rides on adverts, and the main method for making those adverts effective — and therefore valuable — comes from being able to target those ads by collecting and analysing data about users those adverts are targeted to. Facebook make their money by using information collected via their site and using that to target ads unusually well.

...wouldn't it be great if Facebook could see that data not just from when you visited Facebook, or one of their partners, but if they could see every single piece of information ever transferred over the internet? It would be perfect if its users — ~2,070,000,000 as of 30 Sep 2017 according to Wolfram Alpha — would just give up this data willingly, for free*?

This is what a VPN does.

Onavo might flag up the occasional dangerous site, but Facebook isn't interested in keeping you safe. Facebook is interested in owning the internet.

Brilliantly, a VPN connection is unique. A person doesn't ever have two going simultaneously. So this is something competitors with the same strategy can't use for the same advantage. And Facebook only have one competitor anyway: Google. If this ploy is successful it has the capacity to seriously damage Google's revenue from advertising, which is 90% of its revenue. It's insidious and clever. (Note that Google get a similar advantage from the fact that Chrome is the world's most popular browser. People have been letting companies spy on them for no benefit whatsoever since September 2008.)

An example of this kind of tech in action, with only 1.65% of Facebook's users actually using the service, from Sarah Perez at Techcrunch again:

This data has already helped Facebook in a number of ways, most notably in its battle with Snapchat. At The WSJ reported last August, Facebook could tell that Instagram’s launch of Stories – a Snapchat-like feature – was working to slow Snapchat’s user growth, before the company itself even publicly disclosed this fact.

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.

John Gruber summarised the situation nicely:

This is spyware. If you use Onavo, Facebook can and will track you everywhere you go on the Internet.