Facebook pulls its Onavo security app from Apple App Store

The iPhone maker determined the app violated its data-collection rules, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read
Steven Musil/CNET

Facebook has removed its Onavo security app from Apple's App Store after the iPhone maker reportedly determined the app violated its privacy rules.

Apple officials told Facebook last week that Onavo violated the company's policies on data collection by developers and suggested Facebook voluntary remove the app, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The app, which bills itself as a way to "keep you and your data safe," had been available for free download from the App Store for years.

The app, which Facebook acquired with its 2013 purchase of Israeli-based mobile analytics startup Onavo, provides users with a VPN, or virtual private network, to help them stay secure online and keep their browser history from malicious websites and bad actors. But when you download Onavo, you give the app permission to share data about what you do on your phone with Facebook.

That reportedly means Facebook can track your activity across apps, and it can use that data to spot new trends. If, say, lots of young people become infatuated with a cool new app, Facebook can decide how it wants to respond. It can also glean information about rivals like Snap. For example, Facebook knew Snapchat's user growth had been slowing, months before the company even announced it publicly, the Journal reported last year.

Facebook said it's always been transparent with Onavo users about the app's data uses.

"We've always been clear when people download Onavo about the information that is collected and how it is used," the company said in a statement. "As a developer on Apple's platform we follow the rules they've put in place."

The Onavo controversy is the latest data headache for Facebook, which has been dealing for months with a scandal in which data on as many as 87 million people was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a digital consultancy with ties to the Trump presidential campaign. The scandal raised questions about Facebook's handling of user data and whether the company is doing enough to protect it.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.