Facebook has removed its VPN app Onavo Protect from the Apple app store, following a request from Apple. The app purports to be a VPN provider and data usage monitor but Apple reportedly has concerns over its data collection capabilities and lack of transparency.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple has informed Facebook that its Onavo app violated its new app store rules designed to limit the data apps can collect. Reportedly, in a meeting between the two tech giants Facebook was told the app breached developer rules that prevent apps from collecting data beyond what it is relevant to the app or to provide advertising.
The app appears to no longer be available for iOS but remains available for Android, with over 10 million downloads on the Google platform.
“We work hard to protect user privacy and data security throughout the Apple ecosystem,” Apple said in a statement to Tech Crunch.
“With the latest update to our guidelines, we made it explicitly clear that apps should not collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing and must make it clear what user data will be collected and how it will be used.”
The Onavo app reroutes web browsing through its own servers, claiming to “protect your personal information” and provide “added security” through its VPN service. However, concerns have been raised over how much data is being collected by the app and how the data is being used.
Facebook acquired Onavo in 2013 and began linking to the VPN app within its own mobile app through its “protection” feature. Beyond the app store install option, buried in the ‘read more’ section the app reveals it collects browsing data which it shares with Facebook.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal revealed data collected through the app gave Facebook an “inside peek at rivals” and was used to inform its purchase of WhatsApp and push into live video.
Apple has been critical of Facebook’s practices and approach to data privacy, including some choice words following the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
“We’ve never believed that these detailed profiles of people, that have incredibly deep personal information that is patched together from several sources, should exist,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said during an MSNBC interview in March.
“[Consumer profiles] can be abused against our democracy. It can be abused by advertisers as well,” Cook later added.